The Swiss parliament has opened its regular autumn session in Bern with appeals for reconciliation and calls to step up the fight against terrorism in the wake of last week's attacks in the United States.
The speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate expressed their sorrow for the victims of last Tuesday's attacks in the US. They said the terrorist acts were a serious blow to fundamental values of freedom, security and humanity.
In their opening statements on Monday, the speakers called for increased efforts to combat terrorism around the world and they vowed Switzerland would cooperate with the US authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
They added that it was important to maintain a dialogue in conflict areas and to monitor fanatics and the forces of fundamentalism. No single country should aim to dictate its own interests to the rest of the world, they added.
Parliament observed a minute's silence before it began its regular debates. The four main political parties in Switzerland in a joint statement condemned all forms of terrorism and called for a review of Switzerland's security and defence policies.
No impact on UN debate
One of the main issues to be debated in the House of Representatives this week is a proposal for Swiss membership of the United Nations. But a survey by swissinfo among the main parties showed that the attacks in the US were unlikely to change the parties' attitudes towards the UN.
The right-wing Swiss People's Party reiterated that UN membership would compromise Swiss neutrality. The centre-right Radical Party, in return, said the attacks in the US showed the need for Swiss membership of the world body.
The centre-right Christian Democratic Party said it feared opponents of UN membership would exploit the terrorist attacks for their own ends. The Christian Democrats added that the tragic events showed the need for more international cooperation.
The centre-left Social Democratic Party, for its part, said it did not believe the attacks would adversely affect the mood in parliament towards the UN.
The Senate already approved UN membership during its summer session. But the Swiss electorate will have the final word on the issue in a nationwide vote next year.
The government, which has also come out in favour of Switzerland joining the UN, still has to set a date for the ballot. A survey by swissinfo showed that Switzerland's four main parties appear in favour of a vote in March rather than June.
An overwhelming majority of Swiss voters rejected UN membership in a ballot in 1986.
by Urs Geiser