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Swiss vote on holidays, demos and sex trade

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12:34 CET+01:00

Switzerland is voting on Sunday in a series of referenda on issues ranging from longer holiday entitlement to tougher rules on demonstrations in Geneva -- a proposal already denounced by a UN expert.

Residents in Geneva -- the city that is home to the UN Human Rights Council and the Red Cross -- will decide whether to allow authorities to impose fines of up to 100,000 Swiss francs ($110,000) on anyone who demonstrates without prior permission and who does not abide by agreed conditions.

The cantonal government-backed law amendments would also allow authorities to require changes to demonstration itineraries, if they posed "disproportionate risks to people" and their property, a move that would give officials the power to ban gatherings in the city centre.

The proposal has already been criticised by a UN human rights expert, who said such amendments to rules on demonstrations would "unduly restrict" the rights to free expression.

"The exercise of fundamental freedoms should not be subject to a previous authorisation by the authorities," said Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

"Switzerland is leading important initiatives with respect to the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

"The proposed changes to the law on demonstrations in the canton of Geneva are not in consonance with these positive efforts," he said.

Proponents say the move would prevent instances such as the violent anti-World Trade Organisation demonstrations in 2009, in which shop windows in the city centre were smashed and cars set alight.

In a separate cantonal vote, residents of the Swiss city of Zurich are to decide whether to build dedicated garages where prostitutes can ply their trade, in a proposal aimed at moving streetwalkers away from residential zones.

Advocates of the Zurich referendum want a parking zone built for prostitutes by 2013 at the entrance to the city.

The site would be open from 7 pm to 5 am and would have an alley where prostitutes and clients can cruise along and garages where they can carry out their transactions.

Meanwhile on a federal level, the Swiss, known for their work ethic, are expected to reject a union-led proposal to extend paid leave from four to six weeks.

The government and businesses have both rejected the proposal, warning that it would make labour costs too high. Opinion polls in the run up to the vote indicate that the bid would garner just 30 percent support.

Union Travail Suisse had put up the issue to a vote as it found that a third of employees in Switzerland were suffering from stress at work, and  believed that two extra weeks of holidays could remedy the problem.

The unions estimate the cost of the programme at two million francs a year.

Under Switzerland's direct democracy system, anyone can put a question to a referendum if he or she is able to garner the support of 100,000 eligible voters within 18 months.

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