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Initiative aims to shake up the language debate

Jun 16, 2016 0

A blackboard at the day school Bungertwies in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 12, 2015. The school has two kindergartens (1st and 2nd kindergarten year) and six classes of mixed ages (1st to 3rd grade and 4th to 6th grade). The mixed age group system means that the children can study together and learn from each other. (KEYSTONE/Gaetan Bally)

Will canton Zurich go down the controversial one-language route for pupils in primary schools, as in canton Thurgau? If so, would it be French or English?

“We realised that for most primary school pupils learning two foreign languages does very little good. You just have two lessons a week for each language, English and French, and that isn’t intense enough to learn a language,” former Zurich cantonal politician Hanspeter Amstutz told

Amstutz is helping to spearhead a local people’s initiative calling for only one language to be taught in the canton’s primary schools.

It comes at a time of increased debate in German-speaking Switzerland on the issue of how many languages should be taught to young pupils. Also raising emotions: whether international language English should take preference over national language French, which has been traditionally taught for reasons of country cohesion.

Amstutz, himself a former teacher, says the best pupils manage two languages, but a majority struggle. There is also a burden on teachers and other subjects suffer from lack of attention, he argued.

Currently pupils learn English from age 7 and French from age 11. The initiative “more quality – one foreign language at primary school” does not dispute that two languages should be learned during a school career, he added, just when this should be.

He and the other backers, which includes several cantonal teachers’ associations, say that if one foreign language has been carefully introduced at primary level, a second one will be learned faster in secondary school than if two had been introduced in primary school.

The text does not, however, stipulate which language should be learned in primary schools.

Why a people’s initiative?

But why is a people’s initiative needed? The answer is that any change to the number of foreign languages taught at primary school – normally a decision made by thecantonal education board – necessitates a change of cantonal law. A people’s initiative has the power to challenge laws.

“We simply felt that education policy was not moving any more and the whole issue of foreign languages has become a matter of prestige for education politicians including the Cantonal Directors of Education… we think it needs a political discussion and we wanted to give our opponents a ‘hosenlupf’ [trouser lift to unbalance your opponent] like you do in Swiss wrestling,” said Amstutz.

The initiative was handed in to the canton Zurich justice authorities on February 26, with 9,270 signatures. 6,000 were necessary. Validity was confirmed on March 14.

This is not the first time that citizens in canton Zurich have been called upon to vote on the issue. In November 2006, a similar initiative was rejected by 59%.

Amstutz thinks the situation is different this time because “we have 9-10 years’ experience and people are disillusioned”.

But Martin Wendelspiess, head of the canton’s Office of Elementary Education when the initiative was handed in, is convinced the current two-language solution is the correct one.

“We are convinced that most children benefit from it. That a few individuals are overburdened by it, well, you can say this for any subject. Some are overburdened by sports lessons but we don’t cancel them,” he said in an interview shortly before his retirement at the end of May.

“We are convinced that that if the cantons can’t come to an agreement then it will come to a centralised solution from the government.”

French or English or both?

This is a key issue. Discussions about whether one or two languages should be taught in primary schools and which one first have been raging in other German-speaking cantons, such as Thurgau, Lucerne and Graubünden.

Thurgau has gone it alone and in April decided to teach English only in primary schools from mid 2018, with French in secondary school. This caused much uproar from French-speaking cantons which have accused it of damaging Swiss cohesion by prioritising international English over a Swiss national language. For many years, French was automatically taught first in German-speaking schools. German is still taught first in French-speaking Switzerland.

Around the cantons

There are moves towards one language at primary school in other cantons. In Lucerne, a similar initiative to the Zurich one has been declared invalid by the cantonal government but valid by parliament, Graubünden’s initiative backers challenged the cantonal parliament’s decision that their text was invalid in the cantonal administrative court in May and won. What happens next is still unclear. The issue is or has been under discussion in cantons Aargau, Basel Country, Schaffhausen and St Gallen. But in canton Nidwalden, in central Switzerland, an initiative for one language at primary school was roundly defeated at the ballot box in 2015.

A study mandated by the Conference of Central Swiss Education Directors found that primary pupils learned English well but there were deficits in French by the age 14 (end of eighth grade). But education bosses decided they would still like to keep early French lessons and improvements are being planned

Currently there is a “typical Swiss compromise” as Wendelspiess puts it. “Central and eastern cantons start with English and begin French later on and the cantons which border French-speaking cantons start with French and take on English later.”

The federal constitution states that primary school is the responsibility of cantons and that the cantons have to harmonise their school systems. If this doesn’t happen, the federal government can step in and implement a federal solution, he explained.

Interior Minister Alain Berset has already indicated that he would be prepared to intervene should French be struck out of the primary curriculum.

The controversial nature of which language first is why the Zurich initiative has left this decision to the Zurich cantonal education board. Amstutz would prefer French, only because with music and computers children have a greater exposure to English later, which makes learning it easier.

Wendelspiess says English is by far the more popular choice in the canton for parents and children.

In any case, the text first has to go through the cantonal government, which can recommend whether to support or reject it, before it goes to parliament. It may not come to vote for two years, Wendelspiess said.

For now, the debate in Zurich – and in other cantons – continues.

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Dairy farmers in cut-throat battle in Swiss

Jun 15, 2016 0

Milk cans stand in front of the alpine dairy in Peist, Schanfigg, canton of Grisons, Switzerland, pictured on April 30, 2013. (KEYSTONE/Arno Balzarini) Milchkannen stehen vor der Sennerei in Peist im buendnerischen Schanfigg, am Dienstag, 30. April 2013. (KEYSTONE/Arno Balzarini)

The surplus of milk in European markets, including Switzerland, has led to rock-bottom prices. Two dairy farmers explain how they have managed to survive.

His dairy is one of the biggest and cutting-edge in Switzerland. His cows allow themselves to be milked by a robot whenever they fancy it and their food is distributed automatically. Even the mucking out of the high-tech stalls is performed by a robot.

“We have specialised in dairy farming, invested millions, rationalised and improved efficiency,” said the farmer, who did not want to be named.

In the last few months milk prices have dropped again – this time to under 50 cents per litre. The bare minimum this farmer can sell his milk in order to cover the costs of his business is 55 cents. “Before I open the barn door I have to hand over CHF100,” he said with bitter irony. He can no longer earn anything because he runs his business at a loss.

But he is not thinking of quitting: “I am damned by the production process. Always bigger, always faster, always cheaper. My only hope is that my neighbour will fold first.” As a business owner with several employees he has to live on his reserves and keep investments to a minimum to get his business through this low price period. He lives in hope that that prices will rise soon.

“If Switzerland wants to keep producing milk then it will have to change its political framework to give us a chance of producing milk cheaper,” he declared.

As an example, the high-tech milk producer points to border tariffs on foreign grains: “Swiss grain producers are very happy about this because it means they can enjoy high hourly rates of pay. But it is ruinous for milk producers who have to pay at least twice as much for fodder as German competitors.”

“Best cows in Switzerland”

Toni Peterhans, from Fislisbach, canton Aargau, does not want to complain about milk prices. 2013 breeder of the year in canton Aargau, he says his Holstein cows are among the “best in Switzerland”. While the average Swiss cow will produce 23,000 litres of milk before it goes to slaughter, his produce 58,000 litres. They will be double the age, which has a positive effect on his cost-to-income situation.

His success is not down to luck. Each area of business is organised with “military precision” to the smallest detail, from smart feeding systems to detailed analysis of cow pats. “We are very structured,” said Peterhans. “We wash the cows’ tails every week and give them a steam clean three times a year.”

With milk prices as they are, even the top breeders like Peterhans cannot cover their operating costs. But how much worse are things for less organised farmers?

“There are quite a few that are having sleepless nights and must make savings, stop investing or are slow at paying their bills. Things are very grim on a few farms,” said Peterhans.

But he proudly added: “Things are not bad for me. We have just bought a new tractor for CHF150,000 – without financing,” he said.

In contrast to the advice of some agricultural consultants, Peterhans has refused to put all his eggs into one basket. His 52-hectare farm is not only given over to livestock. He has also found room for other forms of agriculture and a solar plant. He also provides biogas and silage for other farms.

Higher price

Compared to the European Union, the price of Swiss milk is significantly higher. “The price difference with other countries grew 10 cents in 2015 because the price of milk has fallen even faster in the EU,” said Stefan Kohler, managing director of the Swiss Milk Producers Association.

Every year, Switzerland loses 800 to 900 dairy farms. Swiss milk producers have it hard, but not as bad as in large parts of the EU. One reason for this is that the EU milk market has only been partially liberalized. This means that there are still some protected areas that can provide value for producers. For example, consumers pay around three time the price for butter than in other countries so that farmers get a better price for their milk.

In Switzerland, the pace of structural change is moving more slowly. In fact, according to Kohler the progress of structural change is lagging behind progress in production. This means that some dairy farmers have not yet been forced out of the market despite rising costs. “Agricultural policy in recent years has hardly promoted the dairy sector. In the long term this inevitably means that some dairy farms will give up,” said Kohler.

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Switzerland’s tallest building gets green light

Jun 11, 2016 0


Basel-based pharma giant Roche has received approval from the local parliament to construct a 205-metre office block called Building 2. When it is completed in 2021 it will surpass Roche’s own 178-metre Building 1, which is currently Switzerland’s tallest building.

The project was accepted by Basel City’s cantonal parliament on Wednesday, winning 84 votes. Two people voted against and there were five abstentions.

Building 2 was designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and will house offices for around 1,700 employees. The 50-storey building will cost CHF550 million (CHF572.3 million) to build and is expected to be ready by 2021.

It is part of a CHF3 billion investment in infrastructure at Roche’s Basel headquarters over the next decade. A 132-metre research centre is also in the pipeline.

Roche’s Building 1 was inaugurated in September 2015 and claimed the title of Switzerland’s tallest building from the Prime Tower in Zurich, which had held the record for almost four years.

Tight planning regulation restrictions in many Swiss urban areas mean that there are few skyscrapers in Switzerland.

The world’s tallest artificial structure is currently the 828-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Of the 100 tallest buildings on the Skyscraper Center database – compiled by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat – the shortest is the 300-metre Doosan Haeundae We’ve the Zenith Tower A, in South Korea. and agencies

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No boat people, even if found to be genuine refugees, would ever be settled in Australia.

May 9, 2016 0

2ddf88077ae39343a5ad750fae21f7c7_LAustralia has intercepted three asylum-seeker boats so far this year, including one carrying women and children from Sri Lanka, the country’s immigration minister revealed on Monday (May 9), AFP said. The Minister also emphasized that no boat people will be accepted in Australia.

Under Canberra’s hardline measures, asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia by boat are either sent back to where they departed or to remote Pacific island camps, where living conditions have been criticised. The government has defended the policy as stopping deaths at sea.

Since the start of its “Operation Sovereign Borders” in September 2013, it has managed to halt the flood of boats, and drownings, that characterised previous Labor administrations.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton reiterated that no boat people, even if found to be genuine refugees, would ever be settled in Australia.



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Rahul Gandhi not welcomed for backing 2009 war in Sri Lanka

May 9, 2016 0

15040693783Vice-President of the Indian National Congress party Rahul Gandhi has been accused of backing the 2009 war in Sri Lanka, according to The Hindu newspaper.

The newspaper reported that Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK) and Tamilar Viduiyal Katchi cadres staged a black flag protest condemning Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the city on Saturday. They also tore a Congress party flag and tried to set it on fire near the Thiruvalluvar Bus Stand. “We have not forgotten the support extended by the Congress-led government at the Centre to the Sri Lankan government by supplying arms, providing training and even advice for the Sri Lankan Tamil genocide in 2009,” State general secretary of TPDK Ku. Ramakrishnan said.

He added that the Congress government also opposed the international probe sought into the war crimes in Sri Lanka, though many other countries supported it. “So we are protesting the visit of the Congress leader to Tamil Nadu,” he said. “Sadly, the political parties here have forgotten those incidents,” he added.

Ninety-one persons including 15 women, who took part in the protest, were removed. Tensed moments prevailed when some of them blocked a vehicle carrying Congress cadre to Rahul Gandhi’s campaign and tore their party flag.


-The Hindu

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“I will wipe the tears of Srilankan Tamils” Indian PM Modi assures

May 8, 2016 0

ModiIndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured that his Government will “wipe the tears of Sri Lankan Tamils”.

Modi said this while addressing election rallies in Chennai and Hosur town in Tamil Nadu ahead of the Assembly polls.

Modi said he was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna and added that his Government would wipe the tears of Sri Lankan Tamils, The Tribune newspaper reported.

He also said that 30,000 of the 50,000 houses to be built with Indian assistance in Sri Lanka had been handed over to the Tamils. (Colombo Gazette)

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Swiss president sees no negotiating room on free trade deal

May 5, 2016 0

epa05278210 Farmers and members of Milieudefensie (Dutch environmental organization) demonstrate against the controversial transatlantic trade agreement TTIP in The Hague, The Netherlands, 26 April 2016. The Second Chamber is debating this trade agreement which would exclude the European Union and the United States.  EPA/MARTIJN BEEKMAN

Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann assumes the US-EU free trade deal known as TTIP is coming – and that Switzerland will have to decide whether to “take it or leave it”.
In an interview with Swiss public radio, SRF, the Swiss leader said he had been in “frequent contact” with European Union and American negotiators as the TTIP discussions go forward.

“We’re currently in a holding pattern…receiving information openly,” he said.
However, Schneider-Ammann admitted that Switzerland did not have any influence over the direction of the negotiations, meaning it will need to decide whether to opt in or out of any deal that is struck.
“Either we take it the way it is negotiated, or we leave it,” he said. “There’s no need to consider whether we could still negotiate anything for us.”

Although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it could decide to take part in the deal anyway – or it could opt out and try to continue negotiations on its own free trade agreement with the US.
Adjustments necessary
However, Martin Naville, chief executive of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, told SRF that “it would be a bit egotistical to think that our bilateral negotiations with the US will result in a better deal than the EU’s”.
Naville believes TTIP will be beneficial to Switzerland in the long-term, but that considerations must be made to avoid short-term fallout – especially for the agriculture sector.
“One thing is clear: there will be a certain opening of agricultural markets,” he said. “The pressure will rise and adjustments will be necessary. This will be costly and must be paid by the public. It cannot be that farmers lose out in the end.”
Still, Naville believes free trade agreements among trans-Atlantic partners are necessary in a world where other countries like Brazil, Japan, Russia and China view free trade in a fundamentally different way.
“TTIP will massively strengthen free trade as we, a country of exports, need to understand it.” and agencies

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‘Sri Lankan Tamils issue not at all a poll issue’

May 5, 2016 0

vbk-13-Thangkabalu_1786808fThe Sri Lankan Tamils issue is not at all a poll issue in the Assembly elections, said Congress leader K. V. Thangkabalu.

This was not a poll issue even way back in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the problem was at its peak in the island nation. The Sri Lankan Tamils issue had taken a back seat then.

The DMK-Congress alliance under the UPA registered comfortable win in a majority of Lok Sabha constituencies in the State in that election, he said. It continues to be non-issue as far as Tamil Nadu elections are concerned, he said.

Mr. Thangkabalu said that it was regrettable that the AIADMK preferred to present a petition to the Chief Election Commissioner opposing the transfer of IAS and IPS officials in the State.

The Election Commission in the 2011 Assembly elections transferred many IAS and IPS officers at the instance of the AIADMK, he recalled.

Mr. Thangkabalu said that the Jayalalithaa regime had done nothing to augment power production in the State.

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New federal asylum centre opens up

May 1, 2016 0

Bundesraetin Simonetta Sommaruga in einen Schlafraum bei ihrem Besuch der Asylunterkunft am Tag der offenen Tuer im Empfangs- und Verfahrenszentrum (EVZ) im ehemaligen Zieglerspital in Bern, am Samstag, 30. April 2016. Anfang Mai 2016 wird im Bettenhochhaus des ehemaligen Zieglerspitals eine Asylunterkunft des Bundes eroeffnet..Das Staatssekretariat fuer Migration (SEM) lud das Quartier und weitere Interessierte im Vorfeld zum Tag der offenen Tuer ein. (KEYSTONE/ Peter Schneider)

The sixth federal asylum centre began operations on Saturday in Bern, and Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga was there to mark the opening.

The new centre is located in an old hospital, the Bern Zieglerspital, which was closed last year due to restructuring. The site will be used as a reception and processing centre. Service at the site is restricted to eight years.

At first 150 people will stay at the centre, later up to 350 could be given accommodation there. Building works required to provide the extra beds will be completed in the summer of 2017. Up until the canton can operate its own asylum centre in a different building on the hospital site with space for 200 asylum seekers.

Barbara Büschi, deputy director of the state secretariat for migration said the size of the former hospital meant that it made sense economically and it was well connected from a transport perspective. “Detached houses for one family, and flats are out of the question. That would be inefficient. And expropriation is nonsense, that would be a poor prerequisite for integrating a centre into an area.”

Justice Minister Sommaruga went on a tour of the former hospital on Saturday. She underlined the importance of more than 200 local volunteers who will help with the asylum seekers at the centre. Those seeking asylum will stay at the federal centre for a maximum of 90 days before moving out to accommodation provided by different cantons if needed. and agencies

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‘War not over until SL Tamils achieve justice and self-determination’ – Corbyn

Apr 24, 2016 0

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn makes his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

British Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn said that until Sri Lanka’s Tamils achieve justice and self-determination the “war is not over”.
Addressing a meeting organized by ‘Tamils for Labour’ at the committee room in the Houses of Parliament last week, Corbyn said the Labour Party is committed to the cause of the Tamil people.
Although it is said that 2016 marks the seventh anniversary of the end of the conflict, it was not the end until Tamils achieve justice, self-expression and self-determination, he said.
Corbyn, who is also the Leader of UK’s Labour Party, further noted: “You have to go into the question of the human rights abuses, the camps that were set up, the missing people, the lack of freedom for journalists and independent observers, and about the issue being properly being taken up at the UN.
“Those issues have to be dealt with. Unless you solve the issue of the rights of people for their cultural identity, their rights, their language, their freedom, their ability to organise themselves as a community, then the war is not over, the conflict is not over. The situation will only rear its head again.
“Thousands have died during that war, thousands have lost their lives and families have suffered. Do we say it’s all over? No we don’t.
“When it comes to trade treaties, they must include a very clear definition of what human rights abuses are. If the trade partner is abusing human rights…then quite simply, we should not be treating them as a normal equal trading partner, we should put all the demands and pressure we would put for anybody else where there is abuse of rights going on. We, as a party, are very committed to the issues of human rights and justice.
“We are very committed to the rights of peoples, Tamil people, in this case, to achieve their justice, their self-expression and their self-determination.
“When I was first elected to parliament in 1983, there was a useful rule that any MP could take up any immigration case in the country, wherever it was. So every MP had the power to intervene on behalf of an asylum applicant to make representations to the home office. Because of the work of volunteers that did hundreds of cases


“As a result of this hard work, a very large number of people were not deported to Sri Lanka in 1983, ‘84 and ‘85. They were able to remain in this country, build their lives, run their businesses and be active in Tamils for Labour.
“When we had the camp in parliament square, people were staging hunger strikes to draw attention to the situation in Sri Lanka. 200,000 people marched through the streets of London and I was one of very few people who were not part of the Tamil community to join that march. I remember to this day, and am still angry about it, the utter silence of the majority of British and world’s media to the demonstration as well as the cause on the issue.


“The meeting tonight draws attention to the abuse of human rights and attention to the demands you are making. I hope ‘Tamils for Labour’ continue ensuring that we, as a party, remain committed to the needs and justice for the Tamil people”.
Responding to Corbyn’s speech, President of the Sinhala Association in the United Kingdom, Douglas Wickremaratne, said that the Sinhalese living in London should not vote for Labour at the forthcoming London Mayoral election. “They should not do so at the general election as well”.


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