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Week in Switzerland

swiss week

(Keystone)

Two main topics dominated the headlines last week. On the political front, the approval of the bilateral accords with the European Union. On the sporting front, football fans celebrated the new Swiss champions, FC Sankt Gallen.

The result of the referendum last Sunday was clear enough: Two out of three voters approved the bilateral accords with the European Union. The agreements remove most trade barriers with the EU and bring Switzerland a step closer to Europe.

Pundits had predicted a victory for the supporters, but the margin of the vote appeared to come as a surprise. Eight years ago, the pro-Europeans had suffered a defeat at the hands of the more conservative and traditionalist electorate.

The result of the latest referendum was widely welcomed at home and abroad, prompting speculation about what the next step would be. Brussels dropped some hints about entry into the EU. The political right wing in Switzerland, however, was adamantly against any suggestions of full EU membership, and parliament gave conflicting signals.

The government, for its part, repeated that it had no plans to rush into such negotiations, but wanted to see first how the new accords worked when put into practice. This appears to reflect the mood amongst the people. If surveys are anything to go by, the Swiss are not keen on full EU membership, except the minority living in the French-speaking part.

Also this week, a dispute between Switzerland and its northern neighbour escalated. The German government said it was cancelling a bilateral agreement regulating air traffic to and from Switzerland's main airport of Zurich-Kloten.

Germany wants a reduction in the amount of flights, after towns on the Swiss border complained about noise levels. The national carrier, Swissair, warned that Zurich would lose its standing as an international hub, if the Swiss government gave in to the demands.

In Geneva, a former mayor from Rwanda had a life sentence reduced to 14 years by an appeals court. The judges said Fulgence Niyontenze violated international humanitarian law during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But convictions by a lower court, which had given him a life sentence, were thrown out. Niyontenze, who fled to Switzerland six years ago, has maintained his innocence.

During the Cold War era, Switzerland was renowned for its civil defence system, including nuclear fall-out shelters and other underground installations. This week, the defence ministry announced a major overhaul. The ministry proposed slashing the 300,000-strong force. It said 120,000 members would be more than sufficient to respond to emergencies and natural disasters.

In sport, this week saw FC Sankt Gallen winning the championship for the first time in more than 90 years. The team clinched the title three rounds before the end of the championship, keeping higher rated sides, such as Grasshoppers Zurich and Servette of Geneva, at bay.

by Urs Geiser

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