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Week in Switzerland

Asylum issues, a vote on a bilateral treaty with the European Union and the trial of a notorious extremist dominated the news headlines this week in Switzerland.

Asylum issues, a vote on a bilateral treaty with the European Union and the trial of a notorious extremist dominated the news headlines this week in Switzerland.

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, visited Kosovo this week for talks on the planned repatriation of refugees from Switzerland. She met families who have already returned under a voluntary scheme and signed an agreement with the United Nations administration in the province.

About 30,000 people, who fled the conflict in Kosovo last year, are facing forcible repatriation from June, despite concerns by human rights groups.

The president, Adolf Ogi, this week outlined plans to invite 100 children from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo for a two-week holiday this summer. The project aims to offer some of the children worst affected by conflict a chance to recuperate in the Swiss countryside.

Ogi also made the news headlines with a two-day visit to Britain where he held talks on security and sports issues. And he met members of the royal family, including Prince Charles, in London before the heir to the throne left for a traditional skiing holiday in the Swiss resort of Klosters.

In Lausanne, a notorious Swiss fascist and Holocaust revisionist, Gaston-Armand Amaudruz, went on trial this week.

The 79-year old, considered the main spokesman of Switzerland's fascists for many years, was charged with racial discrimination because he denied Nazi gas chambers in magazine articles. The prosecution has called for a 15 month prison sentence, and a verdict is expected in the next few days.

There was a glimmer of hope for 3,000 employees of the telecommunications operator, Swisscom, who are facing forced redundancies.

The government, as the majority shareholder, said Swisscom had an obligation to try to find solutions compatible with its mandate. The cabinet also announced extra measures to help employees affected by the planned job cuts.

This week, it was the turn of the main employers organisation, a farmers lobby group and the 26 cantons to take a stance on Switzerland's bilateral treaties with the European Union. Like the government, parliament and the trade unions before, they all recommended approval of the accord. Only far-right political parties oppose it.

And as the build-up to the May vote continues, the figurehead of the right-wing People's Party, Christoph Blocher, kept up his campaign against rivals from within his own party and from other groups. Blocher attacked what he says are totalitarian tendencies in Switzerland's political system and state intervention in private ownership.

By Urs Geiser

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