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Legendary Swiss stone stolen again

After the 1984 theft a copy of the Unspunnen stone (right) was used

(Keystone)

The Unspunnen stone, a symbol of Swiss tradition, has been stolen again - this time from an exhibition in Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland.

This is the second time thieves have taken the stone. In 1984 it was taken by Jura separatists, who returned it again 17 years later.

The 83.5-kilogram Unspunnen stone is named after Switzerland's most revered stone throwing contest and has been tossed at celebrations of folklore and national heritage for a century. It is one of the country's most cherished cultural objects.

Canton Bern authorities said in a statement that the stone was stolen on Saturday from a hotel in Interlaken where it was on display ahead of the Unspunnen festival, which is due to take place in two weeks time.

A hotel employee told police that she saw four unknown men enter the hotel and steal the iconic stone. The thieves left behind a smaller stone marked with the emblem of the neighboring canton of Jura, said officials.

Reacting to the news, the organisers of the Unspunnen festival condemned the theft. But they said that the festival would continue as usual.

First theft

The present Unspunnen stone was stolen once before in 1984 by a separatist Jura youth group, Béliers, but it was recovered in 2001. A substitute stone was used in the meantime.

The group has not made an outright claim this time, but issued a statement in support of the theft of the boulder.

Béliers has been fighting for the political reunification of the canton Jura, which has been disputed since the tenth century.

After many years of conflict the canton of Jura was founded in January 1979. But three districts remained within the canton of Bern. Béliers has called for these districts to come under the authority of canton Jura.

The Unspunnen stone is legendary in Switzerland. It was first thrown in 1805 during a gathering of Alpine herdsmen at Unspunn, a grassy meadow near Interlaken. The event was held to reassert Switzerland's identity in the chaos of Napoleon's Europe.

The original stone was lost and the present one dates from the second contest which took place in 1905.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Unspunnen stone is a symbol of Swiss folk traditions.

The first Unspunnen contest was held in 1805 on the Unspunnen meadow near Interlaken.

The stone is also thrown at other traditional festivals in the country.

Roland Staehelin holds the record for throwing the stone. In 1998 he tossed the 83.5-kilogram stone 3.97 metres.

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