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The week in Switzerland

A massive mudslide brought destruction to the mountain village of Gondo

(Keystone)

A natural catastrophe and the sudden, if not unexpected, resignation of the Swiss president dominated the headlines for most of the week.

Rescue officials worked continuously throughout the week in the hope of finding survivors from the mountain village of Gondo in canton Valais.

A total of 13 people died after a mudslide flattened part of Gondo a week ago. Hopes were briefly raised on Monday when a woman's voice was heard faintly underneath the rubble, but a frantic search proved unsuccessful.

Much of Valais was also hit by mudslides and severe flooding as a result of heavy rains last weekend, but the problems eased as the week progressed.

Two people died in a village above Visp, and at the other end of the canton a woman was swept away in her car in a flash flood near Martigny.

On Wednesday, the defence minister and this year's president, Adolf Ogi, ended the suspense surrounding his future, by announcing he would step down at the end of the year after 13-years in the cabinet.

He said he was resigning like an athlete at the "highpoint" of his career.

Tributes poured in, but questions were immediately raised about who would succeed him as the right-wing Swiss People's Party representative in cabinet, and whether his departure would call into question the "magic formula" system of government under which the four largest parties have divided up the seven cabinet seats since 1959.

Leaders of the other three government parties were quick to urge the People's Party to nominate a moderate rather than a hardline replacement for Ogi. But they played down the possibility of government instability.

It was also announced that parliament would meet on December 6 to elect Ogi's successor. The next few weeks are likely to be filled with considerable speculation about the new member of cabinet.

On the international front, Switzerland's development aid policies came under the microscope in Paris where a committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development criticised the amount the Swiss spend on aid.

The OECD called on Switzerland to boost its current development aid quotient of 0.35 per cent of Gross Domestic Product to four per cent.

In Brussels, the Swiss formally ratified the seven bilateral accords with the European Union, which were approved in a referendum in Switzerland in May.

The accords, mainly covering trade issues, still have to be ratified by almost all of the EU's member states. They were due to come into effect next January, but the delay in ratifying them in European capitals means they are unlikely to be gain final approval before the middle of 2001.

by Ron Popper

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