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The week in Switzerland

The count-down is on for the next weekend's vote on closer ties between Switzerland and the European Union. But oddly enough, this week saw gold, architecture and a rhino making the headlines here in Switzerland.

While the campaigns for and against the bilateral treaties are drawing to a close, the Swiss government this week pushed ahead with another major project, setting up a special charity for the needy. The planned Solidarity Foundation, first mooted three years ago, is to be financed with the interest from the sale of 500 tonnes of excess gold reserves from the National Bank.

The government is less clear about how to use the remaining 800 tonnes of gold earmarked for sale. It proposed spending it on training computer experts and the old age pension scheme. An alternative idea was to use the money to reduce the deficit. The proposals have already come in for criticism by the main political parties and the cantons. It seems the road to approval by parliament and the voters promises to be a long and rocky one.

The cabinet this week also approved a proposal to extend the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse of minors. In a blueprint, the government is calling for the ten-year statute of limitations to begin when the victim turns 18 rather than when the crime was committed.

The draft law also proposes banning the purchase and possession of hard-core child pornography and images of sexual violence, to close a loophole in the existing legislation. It would bring Switzerland in line with other European countries.

In Lucerne, foreign ministers from 13 countries and representatives from non-governmental organisations met to discuss ways to improve the protection of civilians caught in conflicts. The meeting looked at possible measures to curb the uncontrolled trade in small arms and persuade rebels or paramilitary groups to respect humanitarian principles.

Another prominent guest to visit Switzerland this week was Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, from South Africa. The senior cleric urged the authorities to examine links between Swiss banks and the former Apartheid regime. He called for reparation payments for the victims of Apartheid and said military and secret service ties between Switzerland and South Africa should be reviewed.

In London, Swiss architects basked in the limelight at the opening of the world's largest modern art museum, the Tate Modern. Herzog & de Meuron have received almost universal praise for their work on converting the disused power station on the banks of the river Thames into a light-filled museum.

Praise also went to the Swiss ice-hockey team at the World Championships in Russia. The Swiss made it to the quarter-finals where they held the favourite, Canada, on their toes for most of the match. In the end, Canada had the upper hand with a 5-3 victory. Switzerland's moment of glory came earlier in the tournament, when they defeated the hosts, Russia, and drew with mighty Sweden.

Finally, Europe's oldest rhinoceros died at Zurich zoo this week. Born in Kenya, Susi spent most of her time in captivity in Switzerland and gave birth to a daughter. Zoo vets had to put her to sleep, because the 39-year old rhino had been suffering from old age ailments.

by Urs Geiser


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