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
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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.”


North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

Updated 7 min 23 sec ago

North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages -UN

  • South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme
  • Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, although a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people

SEOUL: North Korea’s crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest level in five years, bringing serious shortages for 40 percent of the population, as a dry spell and poor irrigation hit an economy already reeling from sanctions over its weapons programs, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its latest quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the poor harvest of the country’s main crops, rice and maize, means 10.1 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
“Below-average rains and low irrigation availability between mid-April and mid-July, a critical period for crop development, mainly affected the main season rice and maize crops,” the FAO said. The report, which covers cereal supply and demand around the world and identifies countries that need external food aid, didn’t disclose detailed estimates of production by volume.
North Korea has long struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system, and state media has in recent months warned of drought and other “persisting abnormal phenomena.”
The crops shortfall comes as the country bids to contain the spread of African swine fever in its pig herd, following confirmation of a first case in May.
The disease, fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread into Asia — including South Korea — since first being detected in China last year, resulting in large-scale culls and reduced production of pork, a staple meat across the region including in North Korea.
The FAO report followed earlier UN assessments this year that the isolated country’s food production last year fell to its lowest level in more than a decade amid a prolonged heatwave, typhoon and floods.
South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme (WFP). But its delivery has been delayed by Pyongyang’s lukewarm response amid stalled inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization talks with the United States, Seoul officials said.
In July, the North’s official KCNA news agency said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
But North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of its staff it deploys in the country for aid programs. citing the “politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, but observers said a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people.