The week in Switzerland
A war of words with Italy, an embargo on diamonds from Sierra Leone, and concern about a rise in right-wing extremism at home: these were among the main stories making the headlines this week in Switzerland.
A diplomatic row between Switzerland and Italy over a corruption case involving an alleged cigarette smuggler came to a head this week. The government in Berne rejected Italy's claims that the Swiss justice authorities failed to provide legal assistance.
The government lodged a formal protest to Rome. The Italian finance minister, Ottaviano Del Turco, however, reiterated that it had taken the arrest of a senior judge in canton Ticino, to end years of uncooperative behaviour.
Del Turco also said the Swiss banking system allowed Italian cigarette smugglers to hide their assets. The case centres on the Italian businessman, Gerardo Cuomo, who was arrested in Switzerland in May.
In its first meeting after the summer recess, the cabinet also decided to impose an embargo on imports of uncut diamonds from the West African state of Sierra Leone. The decision is in line with similar moves by the United Nations.
The sanctions are aimed at preventing rebels in Sierra Leone from using gem sales to fund their war against the government. Critics say the embargo does not go far enough, because the rebels reportedly export diamonds via Liberia. Switzerland is a centre for the trade in diamonds.
Switzerland earned praise this week from the United States. President Clinton thanked the authorities in Berne for their help in resolving claims relating to Holocaust-era assets in Swiss banks.
The statement came as a deadline passed for Swiss companies that used slave labour during the Holocaust era. They had until Friday to report to a court in the US, which is overseeing a settlement between Swiss banks and Jewish groups.
More than a dozen Swiss companies agreed to join a restitution fund, worth SFr 2 billion ($1.25 billion), to compensate forced labourers at their German subsidiaries during the Nazi-era.
These firms are now protected from any future legal action under a settlement reached by Swiss banks and Jewish organisations in 1998 and finalised last month.
On the domestic scene, the Swiss government expressed concern about the perceived rise in right-wing extremism. The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, has appealed for more public awareness to counter the threat. She said police could not deal with the phenomenon alone.
Metzler said all legal means should be used against the extreme right and she pledged to consider ways to fight the problem. Police this week announced they confiscated explosives from suspected militants.
In the world of sports, the world kickboxing champion, Switzerland's Andy Hug, died of cancer this week. Six-time world champion, Hug achieved huge popularity in Japan where he had lived in recent years. He last defended his kickboxing title in a fight in Switzerland two months ago.
by Urs Geiser
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