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Daily Archives: June 2, 2008

Swiss vote in referendum on tough citizenship rules for foreigners

Swiss voters went to the polls yesterday in a referendum proposed by the far-right Swiss People's Party that would make it much harder for foreigners to become naturalised citizens.
The controversial proposal would give local communities the power to decide by a popular vote which immigrants are granted naturalisation, with no right to appeal.
At present, the decision is made by an ad-hoc commission, usually at the level of regional cantons or communes.
Switzerland's multi-party government — which includes two People's Party (SVP) ministers generally perceived as moderates — is against the initiative which it deems arbitrary and discriminatory, a view shared by most members of parliament.
The SVP has long made the question of "foreigners" in Switzerland one of its hobby-horses — they made up a fifth of the Swiss population according to a 2006 census — and this weekend's vote is the sixth time it has launched a popular referendum on the subject.
The SVP has transformed itself from a small farmers' party into a fiercely populist force with an anti-immigrant message over the past few decades, and scored 29 percent in last October's general elections.
The party drew accusations of racism from a United Nations expert during last year's general election for a poster showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag.
This time around it has plastered the country with posters showing a sea of black and brown hands grasping for a pile of Swiss passports, with the word "STOP!" in huge letters.
Switzerland defines nationality by virtue of blood, and those foreigners who wish to acquire citizenship must navigate a lengthy naturalisation procedure, demonstrating a good knowledge of the country's traditions, history and culture — after having lived at least 12 years on Swiss soil.
Children who have one Swiss parent, or the partner of a Swiss citizen, can benefit from a fast-track procedure.
The SVP proposal harks back to a controversial case at the beginning of the decade, when the small commune of Emmen in the eastern canton of Lucerne decided to rule on naturalisation cases by a popular vote.
In 2000, the commune approved eight candidates of Italian origin, but rejected all 48 applications from people from the Balkans.
Switzerland's federal court subsequently ruled that this was discriminatory after the unsuccessful applicants complained. Under the SVP proposals, they would not have this right of appeal.
Polls close at 1000 GMT and results were due to be announced at around 2300 yesterday Macau time.




Discovery soars into space

by Paul Handley*

The shuttle Discovery successfully launched Saturday from Kennedy Space Centre carrying seven astronauts and the key unit of the Japanese Kibo research module to the International Space Station.
"Discovery flying true, speeding toward a date with the International Space Station [today]," a NASA official announced.
One Japanese and six American astronauts earlier strapped in tight in the shuttle with perfect weather and no technical troubles to slow the countdown toward a launch to the International Space Station.
Just an hour before the blastoff, scheduled for 5:02 pm (0502 yesterday Macau time), workers closed the hatch to the space shuttle and moved away from the launchpad.
Scores of Japanese and other dignitaries were at Kennedy Space Centre to witness the shuttle carry up the main segment of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Kibo research station to the ISS.
Also aboard were plumbing parts for the ISS toilet, which malfunctioned earlier this week forcing the three ISS astronauts to rig up a still-troublesome bypass for liquid waste.
NASA officials were happy about the trouble-free progress of the launch countdown, especially since nagging problems with ecosensors on the external fuel tank delayed several launches in 2006.
"It's one of the smoother ones I've seen in quite a while," NASA spokesman George Diller said.
"There hasn't been anything" to mar the preparation, he said.
The seven Discovery crew — six men, one woman — in their bulky orange spacesuits were put into their horizontal seats on the shuttle three hours ahead of the launch, going through checklists to prepare for the flight.
The centrepiece of the 14-day mission is to deliver and install the 11.2 meter, 14.8 tonne pressurised module of Kibo, which means Hope in Japanese.
When in place, it will be the single largest room on the ISS, with space for four scientists to work.
Another key Kibo unit, its 10-meter (33-foot) robotic arm, to be used for manipulating materials and equipment for science experiments, is being sent up on the shuttle.
Installation of the JPM will be overseen by JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, also flying aboard Discovery.
Discovery is also carrying up a last-minute payload of much-needed parts for the ISS's Russian toilet, which partially failed this week. The three astronauts living on the station were forced to use the facilities in the attached Soyuz spacecraft before they could rig up a temporary fix to the toilet, but that fix requires extra manpower and excess water to flush.
The crew will include a replacement astronaut for the ISS, with US robotics specialist Greg Chamitoff stepping in for another American, Garrett Reisman, who will return to Earth after three months at the station.
Three spacewalks are planned for the mission, including one in which an astronaut will attach himself to a massive robotic arm for a soaring, 20-minute ride through space to replace a depleted nitrogen tank, in a giant arc NASA officials described as a "windshield wiper motion."
"It will be a pretty spectacular ride," said spacewalker and mission specialist Ronald Garan, 46.
It is the second of three missions to take up key components of Kibo, which will host experiments in space medicine, biology and biotechnology, material production, and communications.
Kibo's third main section, a "terrace" outside the JPM completely exposed to outer space, is to be delivered by a shuttle flight in March 2009.
When fully assembled, Kibo will complete the architecture of the ISS, built together with the United States, Russia and Europe.