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SAirGroup refuses to reconsider Expo 02 pullout

Exhibition director, Nelly Wenger, says Expo 02 may be down, but is not out

(Keystone Archive)

SAirGroup has rejected calls from the highest political level to reconsider its decision to pull out of Expo 02, Switzerland's troubled national exhibition.

Erwin Schaerer, spokesman for SAirGroup, said there was "no turning back from a decision already made by the group's board of management".

SAirGroup, which owns the national carrier Swissair, is seeking to end speculation that it may reconsider its withdrawal of SFr6 million offered to support Expo 02.

In an interview with the Swiss newspaper, "Sonntagsblick", the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, called SAirGroup's decision a "political and economic mistake".

Leuenberger also accused the company of double standards, expecting the government to help Swissair win new landing slots in Germany, but "apparently without any feeling of its obligations to others".

The director of Expo 02, Nelly Wenger, also weighed in against SAirGroup, accusing it of trying to be both a "national carrier and also a private company". "It is time," she said, "the company decides which it is."

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, made a last-ditch personal phone call to SAirGroup president, Eric Honegger, to see if the Expo 02 sponsorship deal could still be salvaged.

"He didn't lead me to believe there was any hope," commented Couchepin after the phone call.

SAirGroup has been withdrawing from some of its commitments, particularly in the airline industry, following the departure last month of its chief executive, Philippe Bruggisser.

SAirGroup's decision to pull out of the exhibition is the second blow in a week for Expo 02 organisers.

The mobile communications company, Orange, announced it was pulling out of a sponsorship deal - a move described by national exhibition organisers as "unacceptable".

Despite the latest setbacks, organisers remain adamant that the festival will open on schedule in May 2002.

swissinfo with agencies

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