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Updated: 3 hours 13 min ago

The sticker collection turning football into art

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 12:11
As the 2018 World Cup draws near, the Swiss sticker collection that presents each player as an individual work of art is back for its sixth edition. The Swiss appear as minimalist Microsoft Paint-style sketches; the Spaniards, with flowing ruffs and wide-brimmed hats, look like characters taken straight from Cervantes’ Don Quixote; the Mexicans are Aztec warriors with face-paint and battle-ready eyes. The sixth edition of the “Tschutti Heftli” sticker collection, first published in 2008 for the European football championships co-hosted by Switzerland, is back to present 522 of the players involved in this year’s World Cup in an array of different styles. Each of the 32 teams is presented in a unique manner, a different artist having been chosen by an international jury to caricaturise each country. The aesthetic intent, as well as the minimal statistical detail appearing on each sticker, marks it out as different from the more commercially widespread Panini collection. ...
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John Banville: ‘the artist is the one with nothing to say’

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 11:00
The Booker prize-winning Irish writer talks about multiple selves, art as art, and James Joyce’s ego in Solothurn. John Banville, 72, one of the most eminent living Irish writers, sits in comfortable obscurity outside the Hotel Krone in the cobbled centre of the Swiss town of Solothurn. It’s the first day of the local literature festival, one of Switzerland’s biggest, held each May. But if any of the gathering crowds know who he is, they’re not shouting it from the rooftops. All normal, for Banville. His four-decade-plus career has been strewn with success, and then some – winner of the 2005 Man Booker prize, recipient of the Prince of Asturias award in 2014, touted future Nobel laureate (Ireland hasn’t had one since Banville’s late friend Seamus Heaney won in 1995) – but he’s not particularly shouting about this from the rooftops, either. “Artists are just like everybody else,” he says at one point. “They just look at the world a bit more closely.” To be read is one thing, ...
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Swiss watch rebound masks online challenges

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 10:14
Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse has long been one of Europe’s most prestigious luxury shopping spots. Its watch and jewellery sellers especially like to boast of their 19th-century heritage. Bucherer, for example, is undergoing modernisation but the construction hoardings remind passers-by that the chain was founded in 1888. The global outlook for Swiss luxury watches is reminiscent of recent, happier times. Swiss watch exports in the first three months of this year were 10.1% higher than a year earlier – the fastest quarterly growth rate since 2012, according to the Swiss watch federation. But the prosperous mood does not disguise the industry’s challenges. When the Apple watch was launched three years ago, the worry was whether smart devices would replace mechanical Swiss timepieces as a must-have wrist accessory. Today’s Bahnhofstrasse now includes an Apple store. The tech company’s business model, based increasingly on selling through its own stores and online, highlights a ...
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The Swiss politician who learnt to live with the effects of thalidomide

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 09:00
Thalidomide, initially used as a sedative and then to alleviate morning sickness, turned out to have drastic consequences for thousands of pregnant women and their children in a worldwide scandal that also involved Switzerland. (SRF, swissinfo.ch) Fifty years on from a momentous court case over the drug, Swiss public television, SRF, speaks to a well-known Swiss man affected by the drug, who says he was determined not to let it rule his life. Thalidomide is associated with one of the most disastrous drug-related episodes of all time. More than 10,000 children worldwide, whose mothers had taken what was thought to be a harmless sleeping pill during pregnancy, are estimated to have been affected. The result of taking the drug was that children were born with birth defects, including malformations of the limbs, eyes and ears. Thalidomide was first marketed in West Germany in 1957 as an over-the-counter drug under the trade-name Contergan. Even at higher doses it was said to pose ...
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A graphic look at global smoking trends

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 00:01
In which countries are people kicking the habit? Are women doing better than men? And what about Switzerland, home to the tobacco industry? Here is a visual summary of the data from a new World Health Organization (WHO) report on smoking trends.  According to the Geneva-based United Nations health agency, globally one in five people over the age of 15 was a regular smoker in 2016. Over 24 million children aged 13-15 smoke cigarettes, WHO said in a report released on Thursday to mark World No Tobacco Day. Scroll over the chart for details. Since 2000, lighting up has become much less popular. At the turn of the century, almost one in three people smoked (26.9%); by 2025 this figure should drop to 17.3%. But this global decline in smoking hides variations between regions and between the sexes.  Tobacco smoking appears to be decreasing in almost all parts of the world except Africa and the eastern Mediterranean region. Significant progress in controlling tobacco use by both men ...
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Put national law before international law? Other countries do.

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 14:00
A people’s initiative proposes that the Swiss constitution take precedence over international law. How do other countries regulate the interplay of national and international law? Here is a quick summary. The Swiss House of Representatives on Wednesday began a debate on a people’s initiative which proposes to define the relationship between Swiss national law and international law. Discussions in parliament are set to continue next week.  The present legislative situation in Switzerland is somewhat ambiguous. There is no clear way to resolve conflicts when they arise. Switzerland’s highest court has been giving precedence to international law more and more. This has prompted the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to launch its “self-determination initiative”. The self-determination initiative in a nutshell - The Swiss constitution should have precedence over international law in principle, but not over imperative laws such as those on torture, slavery or war. - The federal state ...
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‘The Brexit vote wasn’t direct democracy – it was drivel’

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 12:25
The British referendum in 2016 on leaving the European Union was a lesson in how not to carry out direct democracy, former Swiss Finance Minister Kaspar Villiger tells swissinfo.ch. His ‘shock attack’ on Brexit has been picked up by a British tabloid.  “The Brexit vote wasn’t direct democracy – it was drivel,” Villiger, who was also defence minister, told swissinfo.ch in an exclusive interview.  “Neither was the formulation of the question clear enough, nor had all possible consequences, risks and strategies in the event of a yes or no outcome been discussed beforehand in a thorough manner by scientists and politicians.”  + Listen to the Swiss view on Brexit from the former British ambassador to Bern On June 23, 2016, British voters were asked whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the EU or leave it. On a turnout of 72.2%, 51.9% of voters crossed the Leave box.  “The Swiss system is the result of work that has crossed many generations. It’s not easy to export ...
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A Swiss engineer in the Hezbollah Valley

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 11:00
Lucas Beck works on a Swiss water project in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. swissinfo.ch shadowed the expert of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit for several days. This is a story about red zones, water and Lebanese small talk. Lucas Beck overtakes two vehicles with his car. It is noisy and dusty amid crazy hooting and reckless driving. I am hanging onto the door handle trying to ignore the truck speeding past us. “Welcome to Lebanese traffic,” was Beck’s response to my obvious worry. This drive along the national road between the metropolis Beirut and Zahlé, the capital of the Bekaa Valley, is his daily commute. The 44-year-old engineer of the federal technology institute ETH Zurich specialises in water and conflict management and has lived in Lebanon for two years. His work with Switzerland’s Humanitarian Aid has taken him to places like South Sudan, Rwanda and Haiti. “In comparison, it’s actually pretty relaxed here,” Beck says. He heads a project of the Swiss Agency for ...
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Swiss humanitarian aid unit: rapid response experts for crisis zones

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 11:00
Whether it is water specialists, construction experts or mediators that are needed, Switzerland has some 700 experts who can be deployed in humanitarian crises or catastrophes all over the world. swissinfo.ch takes a closer look at this very special unit of Switzerland’s humanitarian aid.  Swiss experts provide emergency medical aid in natural disasters, for example, and make sure that relief items get to where they are supposed to be. They set up waste water projects and help construct earthquake-proof buildings. The missions of the Swiss humanitarian aid unit (SHA) members are extremely varied.  The SHA pool consists of around 700 experts who can be deployed at any time to wherever help is needed, whether it is in crises, catastrophes or wars. These civilians actually constitute a standing army. They need to be flexible and can be deployed quickly, which means they have to be ready to leave at any time.  Many of the unit’s members are self-employed. They mainly have technical ...
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When guitar legend Jimi Hendrix ignited the crowd in Zurich

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 10:14
In 1968, when Western youth revolted against the establishment, Jimi Hendrix played a sold-out gig in Zurich to an ecstatic audience that was to go down in people’s memories as a “monster concert”. The line-up was huge and included Anselmo Trend, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Koobas, Eric Burdon & The New Animals, Traffic and the Move. But the evening’s undisputed highlight was Jimi Hendrix himself, performing with his newly formed band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band played at the packed-out Hallenstadion for two nights in a row, on the 30 and 31 May 1968. Both events were organised by Hans-Ruedi Jaggi who had already brought the Rolling Stones to Zurich the previous year. After Jimi Hendrix’s second performance on a Friday evening, a few wooden chairs were broken. Because the audience threw their folding chairs into a heap to dance, the television images of the concert aired later wrongly suggested mountains of smashed furniture. After the concert finished, some ...
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Pollsters wager voters will approve gambling law

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 06:00
Plans for an amended gambling law – including improved regulations to combat addiction as well as a ban on foreign online casinos – have won ground ahead of next month’s vote, according to a nationwide opinion poll. Three weeks before the issue will come to a vote, the leading GfS Bern polling and research institute found 58% of respondents saying they will approve the reform. This is an increase of 6% compared with a previous survey commissioned by swissinfo.ch’s parent company, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, and published last month. “The trend is clearly in favour of parliament and the government,” says GfS Bern co-director Lukas Golder. “Barring a major upset in the final phase of the debate, we expect the reform to win a majority.” The latest data give supporters of the law a 21-percentage point lead for the vote on June 10. Golder also says that despite a high-profile social media campaign and a generally critical stance in the traditional media, the issue has ...
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Gambling fact-check: ‘closed Switzerland’ vs ‘open Denmark’

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 11:00
Denmark is an open market when it comes to online gambling and Switzerland should follow its example, say opponents of a new Swiss gambling law. But supporters claim the Danish gambling model and the proposed Swiss approach are actually equally restrictive. Ahead of a nationwide vote on the issue on June 10, swissinfo.ch looked at the accuracy of statements both sides have made about Denmark. Although we didn’t find any outright lies, some comments are certainly misleading.  The claims According to the proposed law, websites of casinos based outside Switzerland will be blocked within it. In Denmark, on the other hand, since 2012 all casinos – domestic or foreign – can be granted licences, as long as they comply with strict regulations. This is a win-win for casinos and society, say opponents on the “No” campaign website: “The experiences of other European countries such as Denmark and Britain show that countries that integrate what is offered online internationally by casinos – ...
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Swiss gambling law protects players

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 11:00
The new law on gambling meets the constitutional requirement that makes these activities subject to authorisation and regulation, says Béatrice Haeny, who supports the bill approved by the Swiss parliament. For the leader of the centre-right Radical Party in the cantonal parliament in Neuchâtel, the new legislation will also ensure players are protected. In March 2012, 87% of voters and all cantons accepted a new wording for Article 106 of the Swiss constitution which says that: - Gambling is an activity to be authorised by the federal government or the cantons, so that principles of economic liberalism do not apply to gambling and the number of casinos or lotteries allowed is to be set by law. - Casinos pay tax to the cantons and thus their profits flow into the old age pension fund, which means funding of about CHF300 million ($303 million) for the fund, and for the cantons about CHF 50 million ($50.4 million). - Proceeds of lotteries go exclusively to community welfare uses.
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Gaming Act ‘will create a huge black market’

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 11:00
A new Gaming Act will just protect Swiss casinos from foreign competition, says Andri Silberschmidt of the referendum committee opposing the legislation. The president of the youth wing of the centre-right Radical Party calls for on-line gambling through foreign providers to be allowed in Switzerland, while still integrating player protection mechanisms. In future only Swiss casinos are to be allowed to offer on-line gambling. The internet here would be off-limits to foreign providers. That will create a huge black market, which cannot be controlled, nor will there be any protective mechanisms for gambling addicts. Seeing as better solutions are available, this Gaming Act should be rejected by the voters on June 10.   Current legislation in Switzerland consists of the Lottery Act from the year 1923 and the Gaming Act from 1998, neither of which have been amended to any major extent. Considering the large unregulated on-line gambling market right now, there is a great need for ...
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Blockchain property start-up encounters regulatory resistance

Mon, 05/28/2018 - 11:00
A Swiss blockchain start-up that aims to open up the real estate investment market to more people has run into a regulatory hurdle. The case of SwissRealCoin shows that the relationship between the new disruptive technology and the regulators is still delicate despite Switzerland making strides to welcome blockchain to the country. Rock bottom interest rates have made real estate attractive for investors, particularly in Switzerland. Short of buying a house to live in or rent out, people can invest in property funds that entitle them to a share in real estate portfolios. This CHF2.8 trillion ($2.83 trillion) global market (CHF32.2 billion in Switzerland) is dominated by large institutional players.  SwissRealCoin aims to make such investments an easier proposition for the person on the street. Their sales pitch is a familiar one in the blockchain scene, but is so far unproven given the novelty of the innovation.  The start-up had wanted to kill two birds with one stone:
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What’s the point in a parliamentary declaration on Syria?

Mon, 05/28/2018 - 10:52
The House of Representatives on Monday presented a declaration entitled “Stop the war crimes in Syria”. In this interview with Swiss Public Television (SRF) News, the director of Bern-based peace research institute Swisspeace, Laurent Goetschel, says he does not see a contradiction between this resolution and Swiss neutrality. SRF News: What is the point of a declaration on Syria by the House of Representatives? Laurent Goetschel: This declaration brings some visibility to parliament on an important foreign policy issue. SRF News: Is it nothing more than a self-promotion attempt by parliament?  L.G.: I would not analyse things that way. I think parliament also wants to strengthen support for the Federal Council – that is, the government – in this area. And maybe even it is seeking to encourage the Federal Council to take certain measures.  Laurent Goetschel is a professor of political science at the University of Basel and director of the Swiss foundation for peace, ...
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Real estate cryptocurrency, online betting and Winter Olympics

Sun, 05/27/2018 - 12:00
Here are the stories we'll be following the week of May 28:  Monday Looking to invest in real estate but want to cut out the middleman? A Swiss blockchain startup wants to develop tokens backed by a property portfolio owned by the fund. But the Swiss financial regulator is not playing ball.  Tuesday Online betting is in the spotlight as the Swiss prepare to vote on June 10 on a new gambling law. Opinions are divided on whether legislation will reduce gambling addiction or set a dangerous precedent in online censorship.  Wednesday Could you leave home for a foreign assignment at short notice, provide expertise in tough conditions, and live with the uncertainty of not knowing if you’ll have enough work? Members of the Swiss humanitarian aid unit (SHA) provide emergency assistance all over the world on demand.  Thursday swissinfo.ch sits down with Irish Booker Prize winner John Banville, author of 18 novels and crime fiction writer under a pseudonym -- to discuss Joyce, fame ...
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Is Syria chairing the Conference on Disarmament a UN fail?

Sun, 05/27/2018 - 11:00
On May 28th, Syria takes over the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament at the UN in Geneva. This is the organisation that spent twelve years negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention. Now, one of the Convention’s most flagrant violators (or so it is alleged) will be the CD’s president.  The non-governmental organization UN Watch, never slow to react when it perceives possible failings by the United Nations, made sure the world’s media knew that “after gassing its own men, women and children to death”, Syria was about to take up the presidency.  “You cannot be serious!” is among the politer reactions. Journalists around the world have leapt into the fray, launching a barrage of incredulous telephone calls to UN staff in Geneva.  With weary patience, these staff point to longstanding CD protocol. “According to the Rules of Procedure,” says a statement from the UN Information Service, “‘The Presidency of the Conference shall rotate among all its members...The rotation ...
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Pampered pooches, emergency sirens and pricey pads

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 17:00
Almost every article published by swissinfo.ch contains a percentage, an age, an amount of money or some other figure. Here’s a round-up of the most interesting statistics to appear in the past week’s stories. 551,000 The national dog database Amicus counted over 551,000 canines at the end of last year. There are more than twice as many cats in Switzerland but exotic pets like llamas, camels and iguanas are in the minority. 41.1 In 2017, the Swiss worked an average of 41 hours and seven minutes a week. This makes them the second-hardest workers in Europe.   19 The number of categories of jobs that must be advertised at the local unemployment office in a bid to make it easier to hire Swiss people over foreign workers. The measure will be effective from July 1 and is in response to a nationwide vote in 2014 to restrict workers from the European Union.  99  A re-test of Switzerland’s 5,000-odd emergency sirens showed that 99% were in in working order. All the sirens ...
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A craftsman's blend of machine and animal magic

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 11:00
Roger Weber’s fantasy knows no bounds. The trained goldsmith has cultivated his authentic designs to a fine art. From animalistic jewellery to kinetic machines with names like 'Klara the Crab’, we take a look at a typical day in the studio of one man and his machines. His love for nature and all things mechanical began in Weber’s childhood, when he started designing figures and drawing comics. Today, still gaining inspiration from his early interest in anything that crawled the earth, the Swiss craftsman has perfected his skills over the years to create designs that are often in motion.  The ideas for his moving figures, which are driven by hand cranks or geared motors, are hatched at his studio in the village of Niederlenz in northern Switzerland. The tightly-packed space has all the tools necessary for the craftsman to develop his concepts, which often take a long time to come to life. His unique pieces and small series are commissioned for museums and exhibitions, shop ...
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