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Row breaks out over weapons procurement

A row has reportedly broken out between the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi and the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, over government plans to buy nearly SFr1 billion worth of armoured personnel carriers for the Swiss army.

A row has reportedly broken out between the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, and the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, over weapons procurement. Couchepin is said to be strongly opposed to government plans to buy nearly SFr1 billion worth of armoured personnel carriers for the Swiss army.

Exactly when this row started is difficult to determine. Last Wednesday, the cabinet met to discuss this year's arms procurement programme, and quickly approved the purchase of 186 armoured personnel carriers.

By the weekend, the media was buzzing with the news that the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, was fiercely opposed to the purchase, and had indicated that he would prefer to see the money - about SFr1 billion - spent on troop transport aircraft.

His suggestion was reportedly vetoed by the Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi, who instead pushed through his plan to buy the armoured personnel carriers.

So why did Couchepin keep quiet in the cabinet discussion, only to go public with his opposition later on?

Some political observers believe this is a purely a case of political egotism. The SonntagsZeitung says Couchepin is known to be a bad loser, and that he's just trying to make life difficult for Ogi.

Others say Couchepin is trying to influence parliament's forthcoming vote on whether to approve the purchase.

Whatever the truth, the lower ranks are rallying behind their respective political leaders. Swiss People's Party parliamentarian, Ulrich Schlüer, told the SonntagsZeitung that he's alarmed "that an ordinary cabinet minister (like Couchepin) feels he can call into question decisions about army procurement".

Ogi's spokesman, Oswald Sigg, reportedly went even further. The SonntagsBlick quotes him as saying that Couchepin's complaint "must be an April's Fool's joke".

Couchepin's camp is holding its cards closer to its chest. Spokesman, Robin Tickle, will say only that "cabinet bickering is something we neither confirm nor deny".

swissinfo and agencies

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