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Mood of optimism marks national day

Fireworks were set off to celebrate national day at the Expo.02 Biel arteplage Keystone

As Switzerland marked its national day on 1st August one theme was common to all the official speeches - satisfaction with the current state of affairs.

This content was published on August 2, 2002 - 12:06

Despite a string of catastrophes over the past year - plane crashes, the Gotthard tunnel fire, the massacre in Zug and the collapse of Swissair - Switzerland has every reason to face the future with confidence, according to the president Kaspar Villiger.

"Switzerland has repeatedly shown that it can mobilise its reserves during difficult times," Villiger said in an address to the nation.

"Switzerland has everything it needs to manage the future successfully."

The defence minister, Samuel Schmid, took a similar line in his speech at the national day celebrations at Expo.02.in Biel.

Too many complaints

"We complain too much and without reason," Schmid said. All over the world people considered Switzerland "a spot on Earth where people live well and in security", he said.

Switzerland needed to rediscover itself, Schmid said. The Swiss flag was an important emblem for the Swiss, but more important was what it stood for - Switzerland's engagement for peace in the world, security, respect for human rights and respect for creation.

Party on!

Throughout the country the Swiss, undeterred by heavy rain, celebrated their national holiday with fireworks and parties.

On the Rütli meadow, a field in canton Uri considered the geographic and spiritual centre of Switzerland - around a thousand people gathered for the celebrations.

Swiss police reported that around 300 skinheads - a three-fold increase on last year - gathered at the Rütli.

Two years ago right-wing extremists triggered public outrage when they disturbed an August 1 address by Villiger.But this year there were no such disturbances.

At Expo.02 - the country's national exhibition, which has ironically banned the Swiss flag - organisers put on a massive firework display featuring more than 5,000 rockets.

In Basel, August 1 celebrations kicked off early with a city firework display on Wednesday night.

Organisers said around 70,000 people watched the display along the banks of the River Rhine - down on last year's 100,000-strong crowd because of the bad weather.

Special services

Churches around the country held special services to mark the day. On Switzerland's Gotthard Pass, around 1,000 pilgrims held prayers for the victims of last year's fatal tunnel fire.

In other events to mark the occasion, Swiss farmers continued the relatively news tradition of "inviting" citizens to a brunch in the country. The Swiss farmers' federation said around 200,000 people sat down for a meal at around 450 farmsteads.

And the celebrations weren't limited to Switzerland. In the country's Berlin embassy - arguably the nation's most important foreign post - 1,500 invited guests partied alongside a three-metre-high ice sculpture of the Matterhorn.

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