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Swiss and Spanish defend common values

Bilateral relations were at the heart of talks between Calmy-Rey and Zapatero Keystone

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has completed a two-day official visit to Spain, which highlighted the strong ties between Bern and Madrid.

Calmy-Rey, who is also the foreign minister, took time out to attack a proposal to ban minarets in Switzerland, which she called “unconstitutional”.

The president met the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, on Tuesday. Speaking to the media later at the Swiss embassy in Madrid, she said she admired the Socialist premier’s “innovative social policies.”

Calmy-Rey pointed out that Spain and Switzerland planned to cooperate more on the international scene.

“Bern and Madrid defend similar values abroad,” she said. “We want to develop common initiatives in favour of peace, especially in Colombia.”

Concerning the ongoing conflict between the leftwing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Colombian government, she added that Spain and Switzerland encouraged the guerrilla group to proceed with a prisoner exchange as soon as possible.

Switzerland, Spain and France have been active in mediating between the two parties. In 2005, they proposed the creation of a demilitarised zone under international control.

The aim was to negotiate an exchange of hostages held by the Revolutionary Forces for guerrillas detained by the Colombian authorities. But conditions set down by both sides meant that no deal was reached.

Calmy-Rey said that business between Switzerland and Spain was very satisfactory, with trade volumes doubling over the past decade.

Earlier in the day, the president had a meeting with the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardon Luis, one of the country’s more popular conservative politicians. Calmy-Rey lent her support to the Spanish capital’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Minaret ban

On Monday, she met the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, who spent his early years in Switzerland before returning from exile.

Calmy-Rey then travelled to Cordoba with the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, to visit the Mezquita cathedral, a former mosque.

The Swiss president said that the building was a symbol of the coexistence of civilisations and religions. Referring to the rightwing anti-minaret proposal, she added that Switzerland needed places like the Mezquita.

“We can co-exist if religion is not used for political purposes,” she pointed out.
“[Swiss] laws are the same for everyone and allow different cultures to live side by side in Switzerland.”

Calmy-Rey said she was against a ban on minarets and that the rightwing initiative, backed by the Swiss People’s Party, was in opposition to the constitution.

swissinfo with agencies

The Spanish economy’s growth rate is among the strongest in Europe, increasing by 3.5% in 2005.

In 2006, Swiss exports to Spain were worth SFr6,972 billion ($5,610 billion), while imports reached SFr4,064 billion.

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Spaniards living in Switzerland fell from 116,000 to 83,000.

According to the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad, 22,680 Swiss live in Spain, making it the fifth-largest Swiss abroad community in Europe after France, Germany, Italy and Britain.

The Colombian government and the 17,000 strong leftwing rebels, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), have been fighting each other for four decades.

he guerrillas were organised in the 1960s to force land reforms and other measures meant to close the wide gap that separates rich and poor in the Andean country.

They are said to fund their operations with extortion, kidnapping for ransom, drug smuggling and contraband gasoline.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR