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German president begins state visit

Adolf Ogi (right) welcoming Johannes Rau at Zurich airport.

(Keystone)

The German president, Johannes Rau, has been received with military honours in Berne, at the start of his three-day state visit to Switzerland. The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, praised Germany's policy of co-operation with its neighbours.

At the reception, Ogi described the policy as a key to the opening up of Europe.

Rau and Ogi will hold formal talks which are expected to focus on bilateral relations, cultural exchanges and the role of Europe. The trip is being used by both governments to stress the importance of ties between the two countries.

The importance of the German market for Switzerland is hard to overestimate. Accounting for 31 per cent of all Swiss imports and 23 per cent of exports, Germany is by far Switzerland's largest commercial partner.

Rau, whose post as president is a largely ceremonial one, also has a busy cultural schedule. Over the next two days, he will travel to the country's newest canton, Jura, and take in some culture in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Every German president since the founding of the federal republic has paid at least one official visit to Switzerland.

It is Rau's first state visit to Switzerland, although he was amongst those taking part in the economic forum in Davos earlier this year. He also came to Switzerland as a guest of a parliamentary group, while he was still only a candidate to succeed the former head of state, Roman Herzog.

Thursday's visit to Jura will include a look at a Swiss industry which combines the traditional and the modern. Rau will be shown around the School of Watchmaking and Microtechnology in Porrentruy.

On Friday, thoughts will turn from science to art as Lugano's Museum of Modern Art has its turn to impress the German guest. A boat trip on Lake Lugano will conclude the official programme.

The Swiss foreign ministry has said that it plans to organise a second state visit later in the year, although the guest has not yet been confirmed.

Traditionally Switzerland honours just one head of state each year. But that tradition appeared to have been broken last year when the country welcomed heads of state from both China and Portugal.

swissinfo with agencies


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