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EU calls for progress in Swiss-Libya talks

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has called on Switzerland and Libya to rapidly resolve a visa dispute that has involved the Schengen zone.

Ashton said on Monday that talks were currently underway between the two countries, led by Germany and Spain, and the EU would be watching their progress. She urged both sides to come up with an “immediate” step forward.

A spokesman for Ashton said: “It is in the interest of the EU to find a solution to this situation as soon as possible, considering the negative impact on its citizens and businesses.”

As part of an ongoing dispute with Libya, Switzerland has barred entry to 150 senior Libyans including leader Moammar Gaddafi and members of his family. The move effectively blocked pan-European travel for them. Libya responded last month by suspending entry visas to citizens of most European countries.

Ashton and Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini announced on Monday that eight countries – Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg – had urged Ashton to put pressure on Switzerland during that meeting to take steps to resolve the problem.

“We hope that Switzerland and Libya will be able to sign an accord which foresees that prominent Libyans are removed from the Schengen blacklist and that clemency is shown for the Swiss national who is still being held,” said Frattini.

Italy has strong ties to Libya and has fiercely opposed the Swiss blacklist.

The Libyan-Swiss dispute dates back to the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons in Geneva in 2008 for allegedly abusing his staff in a hotel. Libya responded by forcing Swiss businesses to shut, withdrawing Swiss funds and arresting two Swiss nationals, one of whom is in a Tripoli jail for visa violations. and agencies

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