Justice Minister Christoph Blocher has apologised for comments he made two months ago when he denounced two Albanian refugees as "criminals".This content was published on March 29, 2006 - 17:07
"[The comment] was a mistake, which I am sorry for," the cabinet minister from the rightwing Swiss People's Party told a news conference on Wednesday.
On January 20, Blocher made a case for tightening Switzerland's asylum laws during a meeting of the Zurich wing of his People's Party.
He said the Swiss system was abused by asylum seekers such as the two Albanians who he claimed were "criminals having committed two murders and 15 robberies" before fleeing their homeland.
"We have to take the Albanians now because they say they will be persecuted if they go home," Blocher continued. "Of course that's what is to be expected when one commits murder."
The federal police, part of Blocher's ministry, attempted to extradite the two men based on the charges laid by the Albanian authorities, but the men's appeal to the Swiss Federal Court was upheld.
In its ruling, the court said there was reason to believe the Albanian secret service had falsified evidence and that witnesses who had testified against the two men had done so under duress.
Up until now, Blocher has refused to withdraw his comments or apologise. But he came under increasing pressure from parliament, including members of the centre-right Radical and Christian Democratic parties.
He told the Senate last week that he had "never described the Albanians as criminals, but as accused", referring to the written text of the speech he prepared to read at the meeting.
However, he has now admitted to having altered the wording, which he described as a "slip of the tongue".
"It was never my intention to describe them as condemned criminals," he added.
He repeated that his aim had been to criticise Switzerland's asylum appeals commission, not the Albanians.
Blocher said the commission had granted the two men asylum even though they were wanted by Interpol, and before the Federal Court had taken a decision on their extradition.
"That is very serious and disturbing," he said.
swissinfo with agencies
Justice Minister Christoph Blocher called two Albanian asylum seekers "criminals" during a speech in January in Zurich.
The two men were cleared of criminal charges by the Swiss federal court and granted asylum.
Under pressure in parliament, Blocher apologised for his comments on March 29.
Christoph Blocher is well known for his outspokenness, first as a member of parliament and since 2004 as a cabinet minister.
He has breached this by criticising cabinet decisions even though a fundamental tenet of the cabinet is to reach consensus, and for each member to represent policies of the majority, even if they are not necessarily in line with his or her own views.
Blocher's defense of his comments concerning two Albanian refugees in front of the Senate was harshly criticised in the Swiss press over the past few days.