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PROSTITUTION

Swiss vote on holidays, demos and sex trade

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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REFERENDUM

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the public vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.

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