Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

People walk by electoral posters of the committee against the facilitated naturalization, reading “Uncontrolled Naturalization? No”, with the illustration of a woman wearing a burka at a train station in Zurich in this February 7, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018

Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

  • Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban

GENEVA: A second Swiss canton will vote Sunday on whether to introduce a regional “burqa ban,” a controversial law that would prohibit all face-covering garments in public spaces.
The ballot in northeastern St. Gallen is to be held as voters across the country also determine whether a moratorium on genetically modified crops should become a full-out ban.
St. Gallen is expected to follow the example of the southern canton of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago which appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.
A text stipulating that “any person who renders themselves unrecognizable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined” was adopted by lawmakers in St. Gallen late last year.
That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and center parties — but the issue is being put to the people after the Green Party and Young Socialists demanded a referendum.
The text, first drafted following uproar in the canton over a girl who wore a full-face veil to school, is problematic, according to Fredy Fassler, a socialist in charge of security and justice in St. Gallen.
It does not define when a woman wearing a burqa constitutes a danger, and critics “worry the sanctions will be unpredictable and arbitrary,” he told daily newspaper Le Temps.
Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it should be up to the regions to determine if such measures are appropriate.
All Swiss voters will eventually cast ballots on the issue after the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum as part of Switzerland’s famous direct democratic system.
At the national level, the Swiss will vote Sunday on two schemes linked to agriculture and food security, urging a shift toward more environmentally friendly and Swiss-based food production.
The “Fair Food” and “Food Sovereignty” initiatives appear set to fail and are opposed by the canton of Bern, which warns they could send prices skyrocketing and might violate Switzerland’s international trade obligations.
Stefan Legge, an international trade expert at the University of St. Gallen, agreed with the government’s opposition to the initiatives.
“The agricultural lobby is trying hard to isolate itself from the rest of the economy and international competition,” he said.
The “Food Sovereignty” initiative, which has the backing of Switzerland’s powerful farmers’ union, calls for a range of measures, including turning a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMO) into a total ban.
That moratorium was introduced after a 2005 referendum and has been extended three times to date. It is due to expire in 2021.
Polls indicate people widely oppose GMO use in the country, but despite early signs of support, the initiative looks doomed to fail, according to a survey published this month by the Tamedia group.
Observers put the initiative’s shrinking popularity down to another element baked into the text: the call for imports to be limited to food produced under the same social and environmental norms as those applicable in Switzerland.
“No serious analyst can say it is the GMO ban that is sinking the initiative,” Michelle Zufferey of the Uniterre union said.
She pointed out that the GMO aspect had barely been mentioned.
“It is the fake arguments about massive price hikes and a lack of choice and about efforts to isolate Switzerland that have hurt our initiative,” she insisted.
Swiss President Alain Berset himself warned in a recent interview with Le Temps that if the initiatives were to become law, it would “lead to a price hike.”
“For now, unfortunately, everyone cannot afford organic,” he said.
He also warned that “imposing Swiss standards on imported food goods would violate agreements reached with our trading partners as well as World Trade Organization rules.”


Diplomats accuse Trump as impeachment hits Americans’ TVs

Updated 51 min 48 sec ago

Diplomats accuse Trump as impeachment hits Americans’ TVs

WASHINGTON: For the first time, the Democrats’ case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment streamed from Americans’ TVs Wednesday, including a new contention that he was overheard asking about political “investigations” that he demanded from Ukraine in trade for military aid.
On Day One of extraordinary public US House hearings — only the fourth formal impeachment effort in US history — career diplomats testified in the open after weeks of closed-door interviews aimed at removing the nation’s 45th president.
The account they delivered was a striking though complicated one that Democrats say reveals a president abusing his office, and the power of American foreign policy, for personal political gain.
“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as he opened the daylong hearing. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself.”
Career diplomat William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Kyiv, offered new testimony that Trump was overheard asking on the phone about “the investigations” of Democrats that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the impeachment inquiry.
Trump said he was too busy to watch on Wednesday and denied having the phone call. “First I’ve heard of it,” he said when asked.
All day, the diplomats testified about how an ambassador was fired, the new Ukraine government was confused and they discovered an “irregular channel” — a shadow US foreign policy orchestrated by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that raised alarms in diplomatic and national security circles.
The hearing, playing out on live television and in the partisan silos of social media, provided the nation and the world a close-up look at the investigation.
At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call when he asked Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for “a favor.”
Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats’ activities in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden — all while the administration was withholding military aid for the Eastern European ally that is confronting an aggressive neighbor, Russia.

A text exchange between US Ambassador Bill Taylor (Ukraine) and Gordon Sondland (EU) shows on a screen as Taylor (R) testifies on the Trump impeachment inquiry in Washington on Nov. 13, 2019. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Both sides tried to distill it into soundbites.
Democrats said Trump was engaged in “bribery” and “extortion.” Republicans said nothing really happened — the military aid was ultimately released after Congress complained.
Trump restated his aggressive defense with rapid-fire tweets, a video from the Rose Garden and a dismissive retort from the Oval Office as he met with another foreign leader.
“It’s a witch hunt. It’s a hoax,” he said as he appeared with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by his side.
Across the country, millions of Americans were tuning in — or, in some cases, deliberately tuning out.
Viewers on the right and left thought the day underscored their feelings. Anthony Harris, cutting hair in Savannah, Georgia, had the hearing on in his shop, but he said, “It’s gotten to the point now where people are even tired of listening.”
The hours of partisan back-and-forth did not appear to leave a singular moment etched in the public consciousness the way the Watergate proceedings or Bill Clinton’s impeachment did generations ago.
“No real surprises, no bombshells,” said committee member Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
Still, the session unspooled at least partly the way Democrats wanted with the somber tones of career foreign service officers telling what they knew. They sounded credible.
The witnesses, the graying Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in his bow tie, defied White House instructions not to appear. Both received subpoenas.
They are among a dozen current and former officials who already testified behind closed doors. Wednesday was the start of days of public hearings that will stretch into next week.
Taylor, who was asked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to return to Ukraine as Trump was firing Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, introduced new information Wednesday.
He testified that a staff member recently told him of overhearing Trump when they were meeting with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call to the Ukraine president that sparked the impeachment investigation.
The staff member explained that Sondland had called the president and they could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations.” The ambassador told the president the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor testified.
In the face of Trump’s denial, Schiff expects the person to appear before investigators for a closed-door deposition. He is David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, according to an official unauthorized to discuss the matter and granted anonymity.
Republicans argued that even with the diplomats at the witness table the Democrats have only second- or third-hand knowledge of Trump’s alleged transgressions.
A Trump ally on the panel, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, mockingly called Taylor the Democrats’ “star witness” and said he’d “seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”
Taylor, a West Point graduate and former Army infantry officer in Vietnam, responded: “I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything.”
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said Trump had a “perfectly good reason” for wanting to investigate the role of Democrats in 2016 election interference, giving airtime to a theory that runs counter to mainstream US intelligence which found that Russia intervened and favored Trump.
Nunes accused the Democratic majority of conducting a “scorched earth” effort to take down the president after the special counsel’s Russia investigation into the 2016 election failed to spark impeachment proceedings.
The veteran foreign service officers delivered heartfelt history lessons about Ukraine, a young and hopeful democracy, situated next to Russia but reaching out to the West.
Asked about Trump’s withholding military aid from such an ally, Taylor said, “It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.”
Both men defended Yovanovitch, a career officer who Kent has said was subject to Giuliani’s “campaign of lies.” She is to testify publicly Friday.
Kent, in his opening remarks, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House. While he said he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, being on the board of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company, he “did not witness any efforts by any US official to shield Burisma from scrutiny.”
Republicans sought to hear from the anonymous whistleblower by subpoenaing him for a closed-session. The panel voted down the request and Schiff and repeatedly denied the GOP claim that he knows the person.
“We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff declared.
The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment, There’s no consensus yet that Trump’s actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the Trump phone call with Zelenskiy. The White House released a rough transcript of the telephone conversation, with portions deleted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. But she pressed ahead after the whistleblower’s complaint. She said Wednesday it was sad that the country has to undergo the inquiry with Trump, but “he will be held accountable.”