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The week in Switzerland

The week before Easter was marked by the resignation of the president of the Social Democratic Party. Ursula Koch stepped down after less than three years in power, bringing the conflict within one of Switzerland's main parties to a head.

The week before Easter in Switzerland was marked by the resignation of the president of the Social Democratic Party. Ursula Koch stepped down after less than three years in power, bringing the conflict within one of Switzerland's main parties to a head.

Although Koch's resignation was on the cards for some time, it still caused a bit of a media stir when the news broke last weekend.

In a statement, Koch cited health reasons for her decision to step down after less than three years in her post and give up her seat in parliament. Her party has been racked by an internal power struggle ever since Koch replaced her charismatic predecessor, Peter Bodenmann.

It did not help that the Social Democrats posted a mediocre result in the last general elections and was increasingly pushed into a corner by the confrontational policies of their political opponents, the conservative People's Party.

Turning to the People's Party, after a good deal of foot-dragging and some agonising, a party conference finally voted in favour of the bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union.

The other three parties in the government have already come out in support of the accords, as have all the major political and business organisations. Voters will have a final say on closer ties with the EU, when they go to the ballot boxes next month.

Environmental concerns made the headlines this week when a French minister came to Berne to discuss a potential health hazard posed by a waste dump in canton Jura, near the French border.

The site was used by the chemical industry to store more than 100,000 tonnes of waste in the 1960s and 70s. However, canton Jura says toxic substances are leaking into the ground water and they want the federal authorities and the chemical industry to close the dump and help clean it up.

The federal administration could be heading for radical changes, if the government gets its way. It presented a draft legal proposal which will establish the right to access most official documents and improve freedom of information.

The only exceptions concern documents deemed sensitive or where state security is at stake.

There was also some good news for consumers this week. The Post Office was ordered to delay its planned price hikes. It wanted to drastically increase prices for sending letters and parcels as of July, but the communications ministry refused to give the plans the stamp of approval.

by Urs Geiser









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