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Swiss asked to show solidarity with world

The tight security ensured a peaceful celebration on the Rütli Meadow

(Keystone)

There were few hitches to events marking this year's National Day, and tight security prevented extremist groups from stealing the spotlight.

Political leaders and keynote speakers called on the Swiss to show more solidarity with those less fortunate than themselves, such as the victims of the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

This year's president, Moritz Leuenberger, said in his radio and television address to the nation that the Swiss were not "indifferent" to the fate of the victims of the fighting.

He said Switzerland wanted to see an "end to the violence" and told the Swiss they could not live in isolation. It was a theme he also used in a separate address to Swiss nationals living abroad (see related stories).

"Whether we live in Switzerland or elsewhere, we are part of this world. We cannot ignore what is happening even if the distances involved are substantial," he told the 630,000-strong expatriate community.

"Identity is not defined by differences among peoples, but through solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect within communities."

Speaking in Zurich, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey reiterated her criticism of Israel for the killing of Lebanese civilians. She said one could not remain silent in such a situation, and anyone who did could not claim to be neutral.

This was in response to the Swiss government's decision last week to reject comments she made describing Israeli attacks in Lebanon as "disproportionate".

Calmy-Rey also spoke out against a planned tightening of Switzerland's asylum laws. The reforms will be decided on in a nationwide vote in September.

The controversial plan was the main subject of the keynote speech given by prominent businessman Markus Rauh on the Rütli Meadow, the cradle of the Swiss confederation.

Humanitarian traditions

Rauh, who heads a conservative group campaigning against the revised law, said its acceptance would lead to a break with Switzerland's humanitarian traditions.

Tight police security prevented rightwing militants from travelling to the historic meadow, as they have in past years. In 2005, they interrupted and hijacked proceedings by booing the speech by the then president Samuel Schmid.

Up to 200 extremists attempted but failed to break through the police cordon outside Lenzburg castle where Schmid gave one of his speeches this year. The authorities said the militants quickly dispersed and there were no arrests or injuries.

"We should not turn our heads but have the courage to see the writing on the wall," Schmid, cabinet minister of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, said of the threats to peace – latent anti-Semitism, neo-Nazis and leftwing extremists.

Schmid's People's Party colleague in the cabinet, Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, also referred to the violence in the Middle East in his National Day address.

Blocher said a strong army was needed to defend Switzerland's independence: "Lebanon does not have a proper army, and that's why there are several foreign forces on its soil."

Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said the country could not rest on its laurels if it wanted to maintain its "wealth, security, diversity, progress and solidarity".

Besides listening to speeches, the Swiss celebrated National Day with fireworks. The wet weather of the past couple of days meant fireworks displays were given the go-head in some of the cantons and communities which had introduced bans due to the danger of forest fires.

And an estimated 200,000 people attended brunches traditionally offered on August 1 by farmers across the country.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

At the end of the 19th century, August 1 was proclaimed Swiss National Day but it only became a national holiday in 1994.
National Day marks the founding of the Swiss Confederation on August 1, 1291.
Three alpine states signed a treaty on the Rütli Meadow on that date pledging to act together to defend themselves against outside attack.
The Swiss celebrate National Day with brunches, speeches, bonfires and fireworks.

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