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Swiss urged to pull together on National Day

Biel marks National Day with fireworks

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland marked National Day on Sunday with rock concerts, fireworks and feasts across the country.

The president, Joseph Deiss, called on the Swiss to preserve national unity while reaching out to the rest of the world.

Deiss said bilateral agreements with the European Union were vital to preserve Switzerland's relationship with the rest of Europe, and that the Swiss should move quickly to enforce them and embrace competition.

Negotiations on a second set of bilateral accords with the EU wrapped up in June.

"We [can] only protect our prosperity and our place in Europe if we show the courage to embrace change," said Deiss.

He also urged people to look beyond themselves to the community, and beyond the community to the "common good".

Common good

Plurality is at the heart of Swiss culture, Deiss said in a broadcast in French, German and Italian.

“But these differences could divide us instead of linking us. I have the feeling that we sometimes accept too easily our parochial jealousies and that we treat consensus with contempt."

The finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz, urged the Swiss to pull together while supporting the country's 26 cantons.

In a speech published on the finance ministry's website, Merz urged the Swiss to "support the role and responsibilities of the cantons" in facing economic challenges.

The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, told the "SonntagsBlick" newspaper that Switzerland should look beyond its own national interests.

“As a neutral country, we can and must engage in struggles for freedom and [human] rights in the rest of the world," she said.

Protests

Some marked National Day by using their right to free speech during peaceful demonstrations.

Up to 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Lucerne in a protest against fascism, while nearly 400 rightwing militants demonstrated peacefully on the Rütli Meadow.

The Rütli is known as the cradle of the Swiss Confederation and traditionally draws crowds on National Day.

The demonstration on the meadow, which this summer has become the venue for a play celebrating the legend of William Tell, ended without incident.

Celebrations

National Day was also marked by brunches, parties, fireworks and bonfires across the country.

In the federal capital, Bern, the party began on Saturday afternoon, as musicians and bands played to thousands of people on the city's newly-inaugurated Parliament Square.

Previously used as a car park, the square has just undergone an SFr8 million ($6.3 million) facelift.

The new square was officially opened on Sunday by Deiss, who praised the decision “to turn a parking lot into a meeting place".

He went on to describe the square as a "21st century Rütli".

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

National Day marks the founding of the Swiss Confederation on August 1, 1291.
Three alpine states signed a treaty on the Rütli Meadow that day 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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