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"Business as usual" with Austria

The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi (right) and the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel (left) have emphasised the good relations between their countries, despite international attempts to isolate Vienna.

This content was published on March 31, 2000 - 23:02

The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi (pictured right) and the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel (left) have emphasised the good relations between Switzerland and Austria after talks in Berne. Ogi said it was "business as usual", despite international attempts to isolate Vienna over the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the coalition.

After talks in Berne, Schüssel and Ogi said good relations were particularly important in difficult times. Ogi said it would take more than political turbulence to upset those close ties. Schüssel also held talks with the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, and the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger.

Switzerland is the first country to receive representatives of the new Austrian government for bilateral talks. Austria's 14 European Union partners all froze bilateral ties with Vienna in February, after the formation of the new government, including the far-right Freedom Party, which is known for its hard-line policies on immigration and foreigners.

The discussions focussed on the political situation in Austria, as well as European integration and bilateral relations, which have traditionally been very close. It is customary for the new head of government in Vienna to pay his first official visit abroad to Switzerland. But both sides have denied that the trip will act as an "ice-breaker" to help end Vienna's diplomatic isolation in Europe.

Left-wing parties and human rights groups have protested against Schüssel's visit. 600 people held a street protest to highlight their opposition.

"We want to draw attention to the dangers of a radicalisation of politics in Switzerland as well," said the organisers, which included the youth branch of the Social Democratic Party. Noticeably absent from the protest meeting were representatives of the national party itself.

When the new Austrian government was formed earlier this year, the Social Democratic Party was the only one of the four parties in government which urged Berne to freeze bilateral ties with Vienna. However, on Friday, the youth branch accused the party's leaders of letting them down by not backing the protests.

Small protests were also held during two previous visits to Switzerland by Austria's foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, earlier this month.

swissinfo with agencies

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