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Festival goers enjoy German musician Casper at the open air Gurten Festival in Bern


The visit of the Swiss economics minister to Saudi Arabia, a Swiss billionaire whose fortunes have risen sharply and a possible Turkish probe are among the stories making the Swiss newspapers.

Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann defended his visit to Saudi Arabia, the third stop on his four-nation diplomatic trip, saying it is helping to build bridges.

“There are reciprocal interests," he said in an interview with Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, citing the global fight against terrorism as an example.

Schneider-Ammann also said he worries about escalating tensions involving Qatar, which has been subjected to an economic and political blockade by its Middle East neighbours for more than a month. "Switzerland is ready to offer its good offices if the parties to the conflict so wish,” he said.

From Saudi Arabia, Schneider-Ammann plans to fly on to the United States on Sunday. The first two legs of his trip were to Russia and Indonesia. His overall aim for the visits is to promote bilateral trade relations.

Rich and richer

In just a half-year, the stock markets made Swiss billionaire businessman Christoph Blocher and his family CHF4 billion richer, Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung reported.

Blocher, the patron of the right-wing conservative and anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party, the country’s most powerful, reinvigorated a plastics maker from near-bankruptcy. According to Swiss magazine Bilanz’s last tally, the Blocher family possessed a fortune of between CHF7 billion and CHF8 billion.

Blocher handed over the reins of his business empire to his children when he became justice minister in 2003, but he was voted out of office four years later. Now, Blocher and his children have shares of plastics maker Ems-Chemie Holding and other companies, mainly the pharmacy supplier Dottikon, that have risen sharply in value.

That puts the Blochers ahead by about CHF4 billion this year alone for their listed companies, making them worth an estimated CHF12 billion.

Turkish probe

A person in Switzerland who opposes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is said to have called on the Internet for the death of the Turkish leader, prompting Turkey to ask Switzerland for help investigating the incident at a time of tension between the two countries.

A report in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung says the Turkish government, which has been taking on opponents throughout Europe, has already asked Switzerland for legal assistance four times to investigate opponents of the Turkish leader – and each time Swiss authorities rejected the requests.

"The first rejection took place on March 8, the last on July 5," Federal Office of Justice spokeswoman Ingrid Ryser told the newspaper. "The facts set out are not criminal under Swiss law."

But the latest Turkish request, received by Swiss authorities on July 3, is much more serious since it involves an alleged death threat through a social media platform. Ryser said her office has not yet decided. 

One factor is the question of so-called double criminality: any alleged crime that the Swiss offer help with investigating must be punishable both in Switzerland and in the country that asks for assistance.

Labour markets

Siegfried Gerlach, the head of Siemens Switzerland, told Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung that he is confused about debate over labour market integration for 50-year-olds. "It is bizarre that we have to talk about it at all," he was quoted as saying.

Bias against older workers exists but he acknowledges it is hard to confirm. Nonetheless he believes older employees perform just as well as younger ones; he sees no drop off in productivity and will not tolerate any age discrimination.

"And look at me: I am 63 and my job as a CEO is still growing," he said.  "That is why I regularly allow the application statistics to be checked and to see whether older applicants are really considered as employees."

Flight diversion

A Korean Air commercial airliner headed for Zurich from Seoul was diverted to Stuttgart, Germany after radio contact broke off. Two German fighter jets led the airliner to the airport, where there 211 passengers spent the night.

A spokeswoman for the Stuttgart airport said the incident with the Boeing 777 aircraft took place on Saturday night when the plane should have landed at 7:25 pm in Zurich. Police said the aircraft radio had stopped working.

The passengers were driven to Switzerland early the next morning in buses.

Peaceful gathering

The popular Gurten Festival in the open air atop a small promontory overlooking Bern sold out for the first time – and packed in 20,000 visitors a day.

Young festival-goers were crowding the city trams on their way home after the four-day festival officially ended early Sunday morning. Organisers said the entire event was extremely calm and there were only minor health incidents.

"I have rarely experienced a festival so peaceful," spokesman Simon Haldemann said. 

The festival, which was founded in 1977, also enjoyed generally nice weather. This year’s headliners included Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Imagine Dragons, Casper and Beginner. and agencies/jmh

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