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It was good news for many, when the authorities this week decided to extend a deadline for the repatriation of ethnic minorities and school students from Kosovo. They have until September to leave Switzerland voluntarily.

But, more than 15,000 people who fled the conflict in Kosovo last year will face forcible repatriatons from next month. Twice as many people have already returned under a programme funded by the government.

Human rights and trade issues were on the agenda of a visit to Tunis this week by the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss. The visit was given added significance because of a hunger strike by a Tunisian journalist, Taoufik Ben Brick, who is protesting against restrictions on press freedom in Tunisia.

Links between Switzerland and the former apartheid regime in South
Africa are to come under close scrutiny. The government this week approved a budget of two million francs for an extended research programme. The study will look at the effect that Swiss policies had on the political, economic and cultural situation in South Africa, especially during the 1980s. Switzerland had not joined international sanctions against the apartheid regime at the time, but condemned it as immoral.

With the date for a nationwide vote on the bilateral treaties between
Switzerland and the European Union approaching, the EU parliament in
Brussels approved the accords by a large majority. The seven agreements cover the free movement of citizens, transport, scientific and technological cooperation, public procurement, agricultural trade and mutual recognition of safety standards.

Another issue that made the headlines in Switzerland was a spat between
two cabinet ministers over planned reforms of the army. The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, had openly criticised the proposals by the defence minister, Adolf Ogi, as too costly and not sufficiently far-reaching.

The start of the week was marked by traditional Labour Day events and
calls by trade unions for the introduction of a minimum salary. Among the mainy speakers was the Social Democratic transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger. He said globalisation was opportunity for change, but warned change must be managed in a socially-acceptable manner.

And in sport, Switzerland made some ice-hockey history this week by
beating the favourites, Russia, at the World Championships in Saint Petersburg. Their 3-2 victory earned them a place in the qualifying round for the quarter finals and recompensed supporters for a defeat to France.


swissinfo with agencies

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