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The week in Switzerland

Swiss voters last weekend had the final say on five issues at the ballot boxes. They overwhelmlingly rejected people's initiatives aimed at introducing quotas for women in parliament and public office.

This content was published on March 18, 2000 - 00:15

Swiss voters last weekend had the final say on five issues at the ballot boxes. They overwhelmlingly rejected people's initiatives aimed at introducing quotas for women in parliament and public office.

Proposals to ban test tube babies, to halve motorised road traffic and speed up the system of direct democracy were also given short shrift. Only a government plan to reform the justice system won voters' approval.

In a local issue which attracted much media attention, a town near Lucerne refused to grant Swiss citizenship to applicants from the Balkans in a secret ballot. Many commentators said the vote was a sign of underlying racist tendencies.

In a similar vein, a new study published this week revealed that 60 per cent of Swiss people have some anti-semitic tendencies. The survey also said that one in six of those questioned was fundamentally against Jews.

It said racist sentiment was more marked among older men and supporters of right-wing parties.

Labour relations received a boost and the threat of major strikes appeared to vanish this week, when employers and trade unions in the construction industry agreed to resolve a long-standing pay dispute. It took mediation by the economics ministry to bring about a settlement.

Under the compromise solution, workers will get an extra SFr100 a month and in return the unions agreed on a more flexible work schedule.

This week also saw one of Switzerland's major political projects getting back into the headlines. In what was seen by some as a surprise move, and by others as a cheap publicity stunt, a key political party withdrew its support for a humanitarian fund for the needy at home and abroad.

The Christian Democrats said the money, which is to come from the sale of excess gold reserves of the National Bank, should go to the International Committee of the Red Cross instead.

The idea for the fund was launched by the government three years ago at the height of the debate over Switzerland's role during World War Two. But it met resistance from the start, in particular from the right-wing People's Party.

In parliament, the highlights of the second week of the spring session were the debates over whether to arm Swiss troops on missions abroad and a financial compensation package for damage caused to forests in December's heavy storms. The House of Representives also discussed proposals to liberalise the country's electricity market.

Switzerland was in the international spotlight briefly, when the Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, visited Berne. Levy said after talks with the Swiss government, that he backed a proposal to hold a Middle East peace
summit in Switzerland.

It was the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister in seven years. Relations between the countries have been strained over a series of issues, including a spy scandal.

And finally, Switzerland has another celebrity to add to its expanding list of rich and famous countrymen. The French actor, Alain Delon, has been sworn in as a Swiss citizen in Geneva. He and his family have been living in
Geneva since 1985.

By Urs Geiser

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