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The week in Switzerland

A controversial visit by the Austrian foreign minister and a key move towards Swiss membership of the United Nations were two of the stories that made the headlines in Switzerland this week.

This content was published on March 10, 2000 - 18:35

A controversial visit by the Austrian foreign minister and a key move towards Swiss membership of the United Nations were two of the stories that made the headlines in Switzerland this week.

The visit to Berne by Austria's foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, was intended to stress the good neighbourly relations that Switzerland and Austria traditionally enjoy.

Berne is normally the first port of call for new Austrian government ministers, but the European Union's isolation of Austria, over the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the governing coalition, seemed to point to Switzerland being out of step with the rest of Europe.

During the visit, Switzerland re-affirmed its close ties with Austria. And despite scattered protests on the streets and a political boycott of ceremonies by the Social Democratic Party, the visit passed off peacefully and amicably.

Switzerland took a small step towards the international community this week, when an initiative was handed in forcing a referendum on Swiss membership of the United Nations. The Swiss last turned down UN membership in 1986, but the country still takes an active part in most UN organisations.

To emphasise the point, the Swiss parliament approved the UN convention aimed at preventing genocide, and took steps to ratify an accord, established by the International Labour Organisation, to fight against child labour.

The issue of asylum-seekers is often controversial in Switzerland, which has a high proportion of refugees. This week, a government-appointed committee put forward a series of proposals to cut spending on asylum-seekers. The proposals include penalising asylum-seekers who hide their identities by making it difficult for them to work or live alone.

In another area of controversy, Swiss bishops issued a public statement asking for forgiveness - in particular for their failure to protect Jews during the war. But their declaration stopped short of a full apology.

The Swiss Mint, which does not normally capture many headlines, assumed a high profile this week thanks to a famous visitor. The actress Sophia Loren, was in Berne adding glamour and shine to the launch of a commemorative gold medal for the introduction of the Euro in EU countries.

swissinfo and agencies

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