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Swiss celebrate National Day

Moritz Leuenberger gives his radio and television address

(Keystone)

Political leaders have called on the Swiss to show more solidarity for those less fortunate. They made the appeal in speeches marking Swiss National Day.

This year's president, Moritz Leuenberger, said on radio and television that the Swiss were not "indifferent" to the fate of the victims of the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Leuenberger said Switzerland wanted to see an "end to the violence". The transport minister said the Swiss aspired to live in a country where everyone had a chance to live in happiness.

He said this was something they wished for the whole world, since Switzerland 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 said.

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

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher also referred to the violence in the Middle East in his National Day speech. The member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party 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 Swiss could not rest on its laurels if it wanted to maintain what he called the five Swiss qualities: "wealth, security, diversity, progress and solidarity".

Extremists

At least 150 rightwing extremists attempted to break-through the police cordon outside Lenzburg castle where Defence Minister Samuel Schmid gave his speech.

Schmid's speech in 2005 on the Rütli Meadow, the cradle of the Swiss confederation, was overshadowed by hundreds of militants who heckled and jeered the speech, which he used to refer to the importance of integrating foreigners.

Fearing a repeat of last year, the police sealed off Brunnen, the town from which the historic meadow is accessed. By Tuesday morning, dozens of suspected extremists had been turned away, and at least one person was arrested.

People attending this year's National Day celebration on the meadow had to apply for a free ticket by submitting private data about themselves. By the end of last week, the organisers said they had refused 200 requests. Tickets were approved for around 1,500 people.

They are travelling to the Rütli to hear a prominent member of a conservative lobby group, which is leading the campaign to fight parliament's plans to tighten Swiss asylum laws.

Markus Rauh, former chairman of leading telecommunications provider Swisscom, has said the revised law is "shameful", calling on the Swiss to reject it in a nationwide vote in September.

Fireworks?

The wet weather of the past few days has led to three cantons, Appenzell Inner Rhodes, St Gallen and Glarus, to give the go ahead for fireworks displays, normally a key part of August 1 activities across the country.

Zurich said it would keep its restrictions in place, due to the danger of forest fires caused by the unusually hot, dry spell of the past few weeks.

Cantons mainly in western and southern regions of the country are permitting fireworks displays only in designated areas under the watchful eyes of their respective fire departments.

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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