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The week in Switzerland

It has been a terrible start to the new year for Swiss aviation. Two plane crashes this week cost the lives of more than 30 people. Experts are now examining the flight recorders of one of the crashed planes, which came down near Zurich.

This content was published on January 15, 2000 - 11:27

It has been a terrible start to the new year for Swiss aviation. Two plane crashes within four days cost the lives of more than 30 people, raising questions about the safety of air travel.

On Monday, an aircraft belonging to the regional airline, Crossair, came down near Zurich. The ill-fated airliner was on a flight to Germany and crashed shortly after take-off, killing all ten passengers and crew on board. Experts are trying to determine the cause of the accident.

The media and aviation world had hardly recovered from that shock when news came that a Swiss-owned plane had crashed in Libya with more than 40 people on board. That flight, operated by a private company, Avisto, was carrying workers from Tripoli to an oil refinery on the coast. More than 20 people of various nationalities died when the plane plunged into the sea during an emergency landing.

On the political front, the main news was a row over the government's integration policy. Nearly half the members of the Federal Foreigners Commission, including its head, handed in their resignations.

Their departures were in protest at administrative reforms and the pace and funding of integration projects. The government decided to incorporate the commission into the Police Office for Foreigners and to grant SFr5 million for next year, instead of the SFr15 million the commission asked for.

Also this week, the cabinet began discussions on amendments to the law on genetically-modified food. It is due to publish its proposals in the next few days, but it appears that the bill, still to be debated in parliament, will not call for an outright ban on the planting of GM crops.

Instead, the government apparently wants to retain the system of regulating such practices. This is likely to go some way towards meeting the requirements of commercial interests, including the Swiss multinational, Novartis, a world leader in the development of GM crops.

Employees and consumers faced some unpleasant news this week. The engineering company, SIG, said it would shed nearly 400 jobs worldwide, in its arms manufacturing division. Half of them are in Switzerland. The company said the cuts were necessary to prepare for the sale of the whole division.

In Berne, the telecommunications company, Ascom, said it intended to give up the manufacturing of telephones and would sell off its phone manufacturing factories.

Workers at Switzerland's biggest employer, the Post Office, heard this week that their top manager was quitting his job. Reto Braun had held the post for just over a year and led moves to reform the state company. There was more news from the Post Office. It announced plans to drastically increase the price for sending letters and parcels.

And ending on a comforting note: a new study released this week showed that life is getting better for pensioners in Switzerland. It says seniors have benefited from better education and economic growth over the past 20 years. However, for many people over 80, and particularly women, health problems and isolation remain major concerns.

By Urs Geiser


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