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Back to Switzerland for Cyprus peace deal talks

June 26, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — It’s back to Switzerland for Cyprus peace talks. This time the rival leaders of the ethnically-divided island will be meeting at the secluded Swiss resort of Crans-Montana. Previous summits were held in Mont Pelerin and Geneva.

The talks kick off Wednesday and are due to last at least a week. They will likely determine whether a deal to reunify Cyprus, which is divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south, is possible or not.

The key issue is how security will be overseen if and when Cyprus is reunified as a federation. Other issues still to be resolved include how much territory the Greek and Turkish Cypriot federated states would be made up of and the process for allowing tens of thousands of displaced people to reclaim lost homes and property.

Here’s a look at what will be at play at the peace summit:

MILITARY MUSCLE

The issue is one of the toughest in the complex negotiations that officials say have made significant headway in the last two years and has been left to be tackled last.

It revolves around the 35,000-plus troops that Turkey has kept in place since 1974 when it invaded Cyprus following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Turkey mounted the military action, invoking intervention rights that were granted under Cyprus’ 1960 constitution to the island’s “guarantors”: Turkey, Greece and ex-colonial ruler Britain.

Cyprus’ Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, both tackled the security conundrum in Geneva during January talks. The foreign ministers of the “guarantor” nations also took part.

But that meeting dissolved relatively quickly amid recriminations that neither side was unwilling to put its cards on the table and get down to hard bargaining.

TROOPS, NO TROOPS

The Greek Cypriot side wants military intervention rights expunged and Turkish troops gone to eliminate what is sees as an existential threat and Ankara’s instrument of control over the island. Its argument is that no European Union member country would ever need third-country security guarantees.

Anastasiades has proposed an international police force to oversee post-reunification security with the U.N. Security Council using its clout to back it up.

The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey’s troops as their sole assurance of protection in case a peace deal unravels and want them to stay.

Akinci has said a rethink over the need for troops could happen around 15 years after reunification. Turkish Cypriot and Turkish officials insist a Greek Cypriot call for a full troop withdrawal is a non-starter.

An alternative proposal that’s been floated unofficially would see small contingents of Greek and Turkish troops deployed on the island after a deal, while intervention rights would be amended to remove any clause for unilateral action.

GO-BETWEEN

Any compromise on security must pass muster with Greek and Turkish Cypriots who will vote on any peace accord in separate referendums before it would be implemented.

U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide told The Associated Press in April that the world body has helped put together a compromise formula to overcome the security hurdle. He said the formula was the result of consultation with the Cypriot leaders, the European Union and the “guarantors.”

The Greek Cypriot side has insisted on prioritizing a security deal before other issues are tackled. Turkish Cypriots said all issues must be discussed concurrently as part of an overarching bartering process.

To accommodate both sides, negotiations at Crans-Montana will be split into two rooms — security in one, and everything else in the other.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The aim at Crans-Montana is for the two sides to achieve a breakthrough on an agreed peace accord framework. More work will be needed over the weeks and months ahead to fill in the gaps and prepare the ground for putting the completed deal to a vote.

Although it’s said the talks will be open-ended, officials say it’ll likely last a week to 10 days. And timing is essential.

The Cyprus government is set to start promising exploratory oil and gas drilling off the island’s southern shore in mid-July amid strong opposition from Turkey, and the Turkish Cypriots who warn of a potential “crisis” if drilling proceeds.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say a “unilateral” Greek Cypriot search for gas flouts their rights to the island’s offshore mineral wealth. The Cypriot government insists drilling is it’s sovereign right and that any hydrocarbon proceeds will be shared after a peace deal is sealed, signed and delivered.

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Swiss vote to withdraw country from use of nuclear power

May 21, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Swiss voters are supporting a referendum to withdraw the country from nuclear power in favor of renewable energy. A projection from Sunday’s referendum shows a majority of cantons (states) voted for the plan. Under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, initiatives need a majority of both cantons and votes to pass.

The projection for SRF public television showed 58 percent of voters in favor and 42 percent against the proposal. The Swiss government wants to ban the construction of new nuclear power plants and decommission the country’s five existing ones at the end of their technically safe operating lives.

The plan would also boost renewable energies such as water and wind and make cars and electronic devices more energy efficient. Opponents warned the initiative would significantly increase electricity bills.

World’s oldest standing army has 40 new Swiss Guards

May 06, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The world’s oldest standing army has 40 new members after a Vatican Swiss Guard swearing-in ceremony. Each man took a loyalty oath Saturday evening in a ritual-rich ceremony in the St. Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. The May 6 date commemorates the day in 1527 when 147 guardsmen died while protecting Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

Earlier Saturday, Pope Francis told the Guards they’re called to “another sacrifice no less arduous” — serving the power of faith. The recruits, who enroll for at least two years, must be single, upstanding Swiss Catholic males younger than 30.

Wearing blue-and-gold uniforms and holding halberds — spear-like weapons — they are a tourist delight while standing guard at Vatican ceremonies. Their main duty is to protect the pope.

Swiss parliament’s upper house rejects bill to ban burqas

March 09, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland’s upper house of parliament has rejected an initiative championed by a right-wing populist party to ban burqas and niqabs, the face- and body-covering garments worn by some Muslim women, which have become emblematic of cultural tensions in parts of Europe.

The Council of State voted 26-9 with four abstentions Thursday against the measure that passed the Swiss lower house in September by a single vote. The Italian-speaking Ticino region in southern Switzerland enacted a ban on burqas last year.

The issue strikes at the heart of Europe’s struggle to integrate Muslims, and comes amid fears about radical Islam in some corners. Burqas are body-covering garments with screens for the eyes, while niqabs have open slits for the eyes. France and Belgium have enacted similar bans.

Proponents say such face-covering should not be allowed for security reasons, and insist wearing the burqa harms women’s rights. Opponents say the measure is a not-so-veiled attack on Islam, insist that existing laws already do the job, and note that burqas are rarely seen in Switzerland. They have also argued that national legislators should try to stay out of the clothing closet.

The measure, led by Swiss People’s Party lawmaker Walter Wobmann, would change the Constitution to ban face-covering clothing in public. A campaign poster features silhouettes of a niqab-wearing woman and a masked man poised to throw a firebomb.

Anian Liebrand, a former youth leader in the people’s party, said that a movement called “Yes to a ban on face-covering” has collected over two-thirds of the 100,000 petition signatures needed by September for the issue to be put up for a referendum in coming years.

“We are convinced that the people are going to vote ‘yes’ to this initiative,” he said. “We have done a lot of surveys as we have gathered signatures, and we are optimistic.” Andrea Caroni, a libertarian lawmaker with the Free Democratic Party who opposes the measure, praised Thursday’s “very clear decision,” but said a “real battle” looms once voters get their say.

“I don’t want to have clothing regulation in my Constitution,” Caroni said. He insisted the issue is “not relevant at all” in Switzerland, where about five percent of Switzerland’s population of about 8.2 million people are Muslim.

“There have been no proven sightings of a real Afghan burqa — not a single one … which makes the debate slightly absurd,” he said. As for the niqab, he added: “I think I’ve seen one in my whole life in Switzerland.”

Swiss ease citizenship for foreigners, reject tax reform

February 12, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Swiss voters decided Sunday that they want to make it easier for “third-generation foreigners” to get Swiss citizenship. They rejected a complex tax reform initiative aimed at getting Switzerland in line with international standards.

The “simplified naturalization of third-generation immigrants” measure passed in a national referendum with 60.4 percent of the votes, Swiss broadcaster SRF reported. It simplifies applications for anyone under 25 whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for years.

The measure gives young people who qualify the same fast-track, simplified access to Swiss citizenship that foreign spouses of Swiss nationals often enjoy. SRF reported that 59.1 percent of voters rejected the tax reform referendum, which would have scrapped a two-track tax system that offers lower rates to foreign firms to lure investment.

Experts say the tax initiative’s failure means that overall rates are likely to be set higher — which would be a disincentive to companies that bring in jobs and ultimately tax revenues. Many domestic companies, meanwhile, could see their tax rates go down.

Critics including regional government leaders and much of the political left had said the initiative would deplete tax coffers for an uncertain payoff. Proponents had countered that the reforms were needed to keep competitive a country that has few exportable natural resources and relies heavily on globalized industries such as finance and pharmaceuticals.

The citizenship initiative affects just under 25,000 people, but the long-term implications are far-reaching. Roughly one-fourth of Switzerland’s total population of 8.2 million is foreign-born, one of the highest such percentages in Europe.

Switzerland, which is not in the 28-nation European Union but is all but surrounded by bloc members, has been taking in foreigners for centuries. As in some other parts of Europe, being born in Switzerland doesn’t automatically confer Swiss citizenship.

The “third-generation foreigners” initiative strikes at a Europe-wide dilemma about how best to integrate newcomers, but generally involves people from elsewhere in Europe or Turkey whose families have been in the Alpine nation for decades — not migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East who have poured into Europe in the last several years, sparking a backlash among many on the political far-right.

Sunday’s referendum was the latest installment of Switzerland’s direct democracy that gives voters a frequent say on political decisions. A third issue on the national ballot involving infrastructure spending passed with 61.9 percent of the votes.

Voters in the eastern Graubuenden canton, or region, also decided against a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Four years ago, the region rejected a similar referendum about the 2022 Winter Games, which were eventually awarded to Beijing.

Swiss voters consider streamlined citizenship for under-25s

February 12, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss voters are considering two issues that will affect immigrants and foreign companies in Switzerland, deciding whether to make it easier for “third-generation foreigners” to get Swiss citizenship and whether to lock in competitive low tax rates for businesses.

The “simplified naturalization of third-generation immigrants” measure is expected to pass in Sunday’s referendum. It would simplify applications for anyone under 25 whose parents and grandparents have lived in Switzerland for years.

Polls have suggested a tight race over the complex tax reform initiative, which aims to get Switzerland in line with international standards by scrapping a two-track tax system that offers lower rates to foreign firms to lure investment.

Sunday’s referendum is the latest installment of Switzerland’s direct democracy that gives voters a frequent say on political decisions. A third issue on the national ballot involves infrastructure spending.

Voters in the eastern Graubuenden canton, or region, are also deciding whether to bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Four years ago, the region rejected a similar referendum about the 2022 Winter Games, which were eventually awarded to Beijing.

Those hoping to benefit from a new, easier way to Swiss citizenship include high school student Selena Mercado. The 17-year-old was born in Switzerland, has gone to school in Switzerland, considers herself Swiss and dreams of a political career in the country one day.

But her passport is from Chile, a country that she’s never set foot in but was home to her grandparents before they moved to this small Alpine nation decades ago. Being born in Switzerland doesn’t mean automatically mean becoming Swiss, a situation echoed in a few other European nations.

Swiss voters are considering giving “third-generation foreigners” like Mercado the same fast-track, simplified access to Swiss citizenship that foreign spouses of Swiss nationals often enjoy. “I want to give back to Switzerland,'” said Mercado, who lives in Vallorbe on the French border.

Swiss air force upgrading surveillance radars

Paris (UPI)

Jan 19, 2017

Master air defense radars of the Swiss air force are to be modernized by Thales to extend their operational capabilities until the year 2030.

The work is part of the Swiss government’s FLORAKO radar modernization program. It was commissioned by Armasuisse, the Swiss armaments procurement agency, and is worth more than $79 million.

“We are proud that Amasuisse has decided to renew its trust in Thales and award us with the sustainability contract for the Swiss Air Force radars until 2030,” said Thomas Got, Thales vice president in charge of military air operations and weapon systems. “We are fully committed to this partnership and are keen to meet the requirements and expectations of the Swiss armed forces.”

Thales said the upgrade work on fixed long-range surveillance radars will be carried out at the company facility in Limours, near Paris, in cooperation with RUAG defense, who will act as a Thales subcontractor.

Modernization of the radars will take about five years.

Thales said the project will involve development of a new radar signal and upgrading the radar’s data processing and antenna system.

The Swiss air force has had an air defense command-and-control system by Thales and its partners since 2004.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Swiss_air_force_upgrading_surveillance_radars_999.html.

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