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THE WEEK IN SWITZERLAND

Swiss banking secrecy, the future of the state pension scheme and the trial of a notorious right-wing extremist were among the main headlines this week in Switzerland.

Swiss banking secrecy, the future of the state pension scheme and the trial of a notorious right-wing extremist were among the main headlines this week in Switzerland.

Swiss banking secrecy came under the spotlight in a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. A fiscal committee of the OECD called for improved access among ist member states to banking information for tax purposes.

The committee's non-binding recommendations said all member countries should permit tax authorities to have access to bank information. But they left untouched Switzerland's much-vaunted banking secrecy - at least for the time being.

The Bankers' Association and the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, heaved a joint sigh of relief. They both said Swiss law already satisfied the recommendations.

In court, a notorious Holocaust revisionist, who denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers, was given a one year prison sentence and a fine for racial discrimination. The court in Lausanne said Gaston-Armand Amaudruz had dedicated his life to racist activity and had shown little sign of remorse during his trial.

The charges stemmed from magazine articles and books written or published by the 79-year-old Amaudruz. The defendant denied the main charges, but admitted to being a racist. He said he would appeal against the sentence.

A controversial topic that looks set to dominate Swiss politics in the months to come is the future of the old age pension scheme. A key parliamentary committee decided this week to tackle the funding of the scheme and look at the implications for those affected, notably women.

The amendment, to be discussed in parliament, foresees raising to 65 the retirement age for women and cutting costs by about SFr1.2 billion.

In a similar vein, a group of mainly Social Democratic politicians presented their proposals to ensure the future of the mainstay of Switzerland's welfare system. The group suggested that the National Bank's SFr100 billion monetary reserve should be tapped. This suggestion comes in response to the right-wing People's Party which favours partly privatising the pension scheme and using part of the national gold reserves to finance it.

Finally, Zurich celebrated the end of the winter with the city's traditional Sechseläuten festival. The city's guild's parade on Monday was followed by fireworks and the burning of a huge snowman, called Böögg. It took just over 16 minutes for the Böögg's head to go up in flames. According to popular belief, this means the coming summer will only be an average one.

by Urs Geiser

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