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Swiss president to forego Rütli speech

The fabled Rütli meadow is claimed by Swiss of all political colours Keystone Archive

There will be no National Day confrontation this year between the Swiss president and rightwing extremists at the birthplace of the confederation.

This content was published on April 18, 2006 - 21:55

A spokesman for Moritz Leuenberger told Swiss television on Tuesday that this year's president would not deliver his August 1 speech from the Rütli meadow.

The spokesman said Leuenberger did not want to start a tradition of Swiss presidents delivering their national day speeches from the meadow. He said it was important for the president to show that every national day celebration mattered, wherever it took place.

But he declined to say where Leuenberger would go to address the nation this year.

The spokesman said the decision was supported by the entire seven-member cabinet, and added that it was not influenced by last year's showdown with extremists.

As many as 700 militants jeered and heckled the speech by last year's president Samuel Schmid, booing when he referred to the integration of foreigners.

The extremists accounted for more than a third of those in attendance and dominated proceedings, calling Schmid a "traitor".

Schmid responded by reminding the crowd that it was the duty of everyone to reject all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and extremism.

Limited access

It is not clear whether Leuenberger's decision will alter security measures the committee operating the historic site put in place for this year, including a decision to limit access to the National Day celebrations.

Following last year's disruption, the committee said the 2006 event would be limited to 2,000 people and a free ticketing system would be put in place to make it easier to screen the public in attendance.

Last year was the tenth year in a row that rightwing extremists made the journey to the meadow on the shores of Lake Lucerne, with their numbers increasing each year.

There are an estimated 1,000 such militants in the country but they are not well organised, according to the latest federal police report on extremism.

According to legend, representatives of the three founding Swiss cantons met on the Rütli meadow in 1291 to form an alliance against the Habsburgs, their feudal lords.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swiss National Day on August 1 was introduced at the end of the 19th century to mark the founding of the Swiss Confederation in 1291.

For the past decade, rightwing extremists have attended celebrations on the Rütli meadow, known as the cradle of Switzerland.

In 2005, President Samuel Schmid was heckled by extremists when he referred to the integration of foreigners and the importance of other cultures.

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