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Government condemns extremist disturbances

Around 700 rightwing extremists disrupted Schmid's speech on National Day

(Keystone)

The Swiss government has condemned far-right and far-left militants who disrupted official speeches given by cabinet ministers on National Day.

The president, Samuel Schmid, and the justice minister, Christoph Blocher, were both targets of hecklers at different gatherings on August 1.

Around 700 far-right militants heckled the president during his speech on the Rütli Meadow near Lucerne, known as the cradle of Switzerland.

Rightwing groups accounted for more than a third of all those in attendance at the National Day celebrations on the meadow. They dominated proceedings by booing Schmid, calling him a "traitor".

Schmid said after the government meeting on Wednesday that such behaviour was unworthy of any Swiss. He added that given the Rütli's symbolic value, the authorities had a duty to discuss these disturbances.

Tradition has it that the founding act of Switzerland took place there in 1291.

But the government stopped short of restricting access to National Day celebrations at the Rütli.

Schmid said it was mainly up to canton Uri as well as the foundation that organises the August 1 celebration to decide on any concrete measures. Both parties are expected make proposals before the end of the year.

No blame

The authorities also refused to put any blame on the rightwing Swiss People's Party for the disturbances.

Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger, of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, suggested in an August 4 interview with the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that the People's Party had encouraged such extreme behaviour.

Blocher was also the target of heckling – this time from far-left militants - during his National Day speech in Winterthur.

He also faced protest actions by autonomists from the Jura region as well anti-globalisation supporters during his visit to the National Horse Show in Saignelégier last weekend.

Speaking for the first time since Leuenberger's remarks, Blocher said the political climate had not deteriorated.

"I remember times in the 1980s when speakers were attacked with tear gas," he told Swiss public radio. "The situation hasn't got worse, but we have to make sure our democratic structure ensures freedom of speech."

Both Schmid and Blocher are members of the People's Party.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swiss National Day on August 1 was introduced at the end of the 19th century but it only became a national holiday in 1994.

National Day marks the founding of the Swiss Confederation on August 1, 1291.

For the past decade, rightwing extremists have attended celebrations at the Rütli Meadow.

President Samuel Schmid was heckled by these extremists when he referred to the integration of foreigners and the importance of other cultures.

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