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National exhibition thrown lifeline by Swiss banks

Construction of Expo's sites has long been underway, despite financial problems

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland's planned national exhibition, Expo 02, has won a promise of new funding just a day after suffering a major financial setback. The country's biggest banks agreed on Friday to take over funding of the project until June.

According to the Expo 02 management committee head, Franz Steinegger, the banks will also fund the project to the tune of SFr150-160 million ($89-95 million).

The offer came during a meeting of Steinegger, the finance minister Kaspar Villiger, and Switzerland's three largest banks - UBS, Credit Suisse and the Zürcher Kantonalbank.

The banks' bailout package comes after two of the project's major sponsors - the telecommunications company, Orange, and Swissair's parent company, SAirGroup - announced they were pulling out.

The withdrawal of the two firms left Expo with fewer than 40 exhibitors and added to its financial woes.

Only last week Steinegger warned that Expo needed SFr200 million just to see it through to the end of June.

Speaking after Friday's meeting, Steinegger said the government had also offered to convert SFr200 million of its SFr338 million credit guarantee into a loan. The government decision is subject to approval by parliament.

Steinegger said that although not everything had been formally settled, a solution to Expo's problems was now in sight.

The national exhibition has suffered a series of setbacks over the past two years, which delayed its opening by a year.

swissinfo with agencies

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