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New Swiss Guards sworn in at Vatican

A new contingent of Swiss guards has been sworn in at the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul, and the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi. Before the ceremony, Ogi was granted a private audience with the Pope.

After meeting the Pope - an experience Ogi described as "the most important moment in my political life" - the two attended the swearing in of 35 new Swiss guards. The ceremony took place at the "Sacco di Roma", the annual meeting of the Swiss Guards.

The new guardsmen include 12 men from French-speaking Switzerland, one from the predominately Italian, canton Ticino, and one from Romansch-speaking Switzerland. The rest are from German-speaking areas.

The Vatican has been protected by the Swiss guards since 1506. They were formed by Pope Julian II, and are presently made up of 110 members.

The ceremony traditionally marks a massacre during the sacking of Rome in 1527, in which 147 guardsmen were killed trying to protect Pope Clement VII.

Ogi's meeting with Pope John Paul was understood to have touched on the murder of the head of the Swiss guards two years ago. Shortly after the swearing in ceremony in 1998, the commander of the Guards - Alois Estermann, and his wife, Gladys - was shot dead by a fellow guardsman. He later committed suicide.

The resulting tensions are now said to have been defused following sweeping reforms within the Guards. These have apparently improved the "esprit de corps".

The appointment of a new commander from French-speaking Switzerland, Jean-Daniel Pitteloud, is also thought to have helped. "French-speaking guardsmen had previously expressed the need to have an officer with whom they could discuss their personal problems in their mother tongue," Pitteloud said.

Before meeting the Pope, President Ogi held talks with his Italian counterpart, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Their discussions focused on the bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union, as well as relations with Italy, and reconstruction work in the Balkans in the aftermath of last year's conflict.

swissinfo with agencies

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