Ogi and Blocher at odds over foreign role of army

Despite the smiles, the president, Adolf Ogi, and the populist de facto leader of his People's Party, Christoph Blocher, have clashed at a party meeting in the Swiss town of Albisgüetli.

This content was published on January 21, 2000 minutes

Despite the smiles, the president, Adolf Ogi, and the populist de facto leader of his People's Party, Christoph Blocher, have clashed at an annual meeting of the Zurich branch of the party in the town of Albisgüetli, not least over whether Swiss soldiers should be deployed abroad.

Blocher said the People's Party was the only party that still defended the values that made Switzerland successful - popular democracy, limiting the powers of politicians and armed neutrality.

He said the other three parties represented in government - the Social Democrats, the Radicals and the Christian Democrats - were endangering this recipe. He said Switzerland was a special case, and its fate and that of his party were closely linked.

Blocher added that in denying the People's Party a second seat in the cabinet, the other parties were forcing it to put one foot in opposition.

A key point of his speech was that neutrality excluded membership of the United Nations and the European Union. It also meant the army had to concentrate all its efforts on national defence. Swiss soldiers should have no role abroad, Blocher said.

President Ogi took a different view. He said the deployment of Swiss soldiers abroad did not harm the country's neutrality. He pointed out that Switzerland had sent military observers to Korea in 1953, and it had not provoked such agitated debates.

"Switzerland must get involved, notably through armed missions abroad. To guarantee its security, Switzerland has no option but to collaborate," Ogi said.

He said the only question was how far this collaboration should go. He ruled out membership of NATO.

"But crises, like that in Kosovo, can only be reolved jointly." the president said.

He added that the country's neutral stance had to take account of a more globalised world.

He also noted the contradiction of Switzerland - which is home to part of the United Nations - pays a contribution to the UN, but has no say in its affairs because it is not a member.

He said foreigners were not a threat, but a reality of everyday life. He said the presence of foreigners in Switzerland had strengthened national identity.

Ogi is a member of the more moderate Berne wing of the People's Party. Blocher is the figurehead of the more radical Zurich branch.

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