“I am Russian, I am against war. Putin is Murderer,” one cardboard sign read, while another stated: “I’m Russian, I stand with Ukraine.”
Benoit Gaillard, a representative of the USS union which co-organised the march, told AFP that the fact that “10,000 people braved the cold” showed that “this war has left no one indifferent”.
Just over five weeks into the invasion, thousands have been killed and millions displaced as parts of Ukraine have been reduced to rubble.
“We need everyone to be in solidarity with us,” said Hanna Perekhoda, a Ukrainian student at Lausanne university and member of the Swiss-Ukraine support committee.
“Ukraine is protecting Europe, protecting democracy and the world against the authoritarian dictatorship of Vladimir Putin,” she told AFP.
The demonstration was aimed at pushing Switzerland to actively engage in efforts to secure a ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Russian forces, organisers said.
The demonstrators were also demanding more support for Ukrainian refugees, and for further sanctions on Russia, including reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas.
“Peace now, No gas, No war,” one large banner read, while a woman held up a sign with a picture of Putin with a red handprint across his face demanding “Stop trade with terrorist”.
Switzerland is not in the EU and has a long-standing tradition of neutrality on matters of war. It has nevertheless been aligning itself with the waves of EU sanctions imposed following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Switzerland said last month it had frozen the equivalent of 5.75 billion Swiss francs ($6.2 billion) in Russian assets since the invasion began.
But Kyiv has been pressing Switzerland, a favoured destination for wealthy Russians and their assets, to do more.
“Russian oligarchs have their money here in Switzerland, in Swiss banks, so Switzerland is a key place to stop this war,” Perekhoda said.
“The Swiss government must take this responsibility and freeze all the assets of Russian oligarchs who finance this bloody war.”
Traditionally neutral Switzerland will adopt all the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including against President Vladimir Putin, Bern said Monday.
“This is a big step for Switzerland,” Swiss President Ignazio Cassis told a press conference, after the neutral Alpine nation had for days hesitated over whether to join the international move to sanction Moscow over the attack on its neighbour.
As the European Union last week slapped Russia with biting sanctions after it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Bern initially said only that it would ensure that those penalties could not be circumvented via Switzerland.
But following a government meeting Monday, Switzerland announced it was now fully onboard with the sanctions.
“Switzerland will implement the sanctions in coordination with the EU,” the government, known as the Federal Council, said in a statement, adding that these were “primarily goods and financial sanctions.”
But they also included the freezing of the assets of persons and companies.
In particular, the government said Switzerland would with “immediate effect” impose the sanctions already imposed by the EU on Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
– ‘Responsible’ –
“In so doing, Switzerland is responding to the serious violations of international law for which these individuals are responsible,” it said.
The announcement came as Russia’s mission in Geneva announced that Lavrov, who had been scheduled travel to the Swiss city on Tuesday to address the United Nations Human Rights Council, had been forced to cancel his trip due to the “anti-Russian sanctions” imposed by EU countries.
The Swiss government said Monday that it would also close Swiss airspace to all flights from Russia and to all movements of aircraft with Russian markings, except for flights for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes.
Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter meanwhile told reporters that five oligarchs close to the Russian president and who had strong ties to Switzerland had been banned from entering the country.
And Bern said it had decided to partially suspend a 2009 agreement on visa facilitation for Russian nationals, although holders of diplomatic passports would still be permitted to enter Switzerland without a visa.
Switzerland had come under increasing pressure to get in line with the EU and US sanctions against Russia, with nearly all political parties backing the move.
And on Saturday, as many as 20,000 demonstrators marched in Switzerland in solidarity with Ukraine, with many loudly calling on Bern to impose sanctions.
Before shifting its approach, the government said it had carefully considered “Switzerland’s neutrality and peace policy considerations”, but that “Russia’s unprecedented military attack on a sovereign European country was the deciding factor.”
Bern stressed though that it remained willing to “actively contribute to a solution to the conflict through its good offices.”
It also said Switzerland would deliver 25 tonnes of relief supplies to Poland within coming days to help people in need in neighbouring Ukraine.
The UN human rights chief said Monday at least 102 civilians, including seven children, had been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded five days ago, warning true numbers could be far higher.
Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet said her office had recorded 406 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 102 deaths, since Russia began its full-scale attack last Thursday.
“Most of these civilians were killed by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and airstrikes,” she said, warning “the real figures are, I fear, considerably higher”.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the suffering in Ukraine was widespread.
“Millions of civilians, including vulnerable and older people, are forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters, such as underground stations, to escape explosions,” she said.
She pointed out that the UN refugee agency has already tallied 368,000 people fleeing the country as refugees, with many more displaced inside Ukraine.
“My thoughts go out to them and to all those across the world who suffer,” she said.
“The calls for peace and human rights that are coming from individuals all over the world warn us that our future must not be a world that has become unmoored from the jointly agreed obligations of international human rights law, and from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Bachelet’s comments came at the start of the UN rights council’s main annual session, which began with a vote to host an urgent debate on the Ukraine conflict later this week.
Ukraine, which had requested the debate, is expected to present a resolution calling for an investigation into Moscow’s violations in the country.
Russia had rejected Ukraine’s request for the debate and demanded the issue be put to a vote, but a large majority of the 47 council members supported Kyiv’s request.
Ukraine’s ambassador in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, described Russia’s actions as an attack on the wider international community.
“It was an attack not only on Ukraine, it was an attack on every UN member state, on the United Nations and on the principles that this organisation was created to defend,” she said.
She said over 350 people had been killed in the five days since the invasion began, including 16 children.
The UN Human Rights Council voted Monday to hold an urgent debate about Russia’s deadly invasion of Ukraine at Kyiv’s request, amid widespread international condemnation of Moscow’s attack.
Ukraine’s request to hold an urgent debate at the council in Geneva was supported by 29 of the council’s 47 members, with five voting against, including Russia and China, and 13 abstentions.
Before the vote, Ukraine’s ambassador in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, described Russia’s actions as an attack on the wider international community.
“It was an attack not only on Ukraine, it was an attack on every UN member state, on the United Nations, and on the principles that this organisation was created to defend,” she said.
She said that over 350 people had been killed in the five days since the invasion began, including 16 children.
Russia’s ambassador in Geneva Gennady Gatilov meanwhile slammed the call for a debate, insisting it was Kyiv, not Moscow who was the aggressor.
Kyiv, he said, was only trying to “distract the attention of the international community” away from its attacks on separatist regions in eastern Ukraine over the past eight years, he claimed.
“The decision to conduct a special operation to stop the tragedy in Ukraine was taken. We had no other choice,” he said, insisting that “this operation is targeted in nature, and there is no fire on civilian sites.” His arguments failed to convince however, with an overwhelming majority of the council voting to go ahead with the debate.
It will take place on Thursday after three days of speeches by ministers and top officials from over 140 countries, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is due to speak in person on Tuesday.
Russia has become an international pariah as its forces do battle on the streets of Ukraine’s cities, facing a barrage of sanctions and banned from Western airspace and key financial networks. The UN General Assembly is also due to host a rare special session in New York Monday on the conflict.
Alpine neighbours Switzerland and Austria on Wednesday became the latest European countries to drop almost all of their COVID-19 restrictions despite the virus still circulating strongly.
The Swiss government said the conditions were right for a “rapid normalisation” of national life.
From Thursday, the only remaining coronavirus requirements in Switzerland will be the obligation to self-isolate for five days after a positive test and to wear masks on public transport and in healthcare institutions.
However, those rules will expire at the end of March at the latest.
“The Federal Council took the decision to lift the majority of measures in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic,” the government said in a statement.
“Masks and COVID-19 certificates will no longer be required to enter shops, restaurants, cultural venues, and other public settings and events.
“The requirement to wear masks in the workplace and the recommendation to work from home will also end.”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the government would drop most measures from March 5.
Only mask-wearing in essential shops and public transport will remain compulsory, as well as entry restrictions at hospitals and other places with vulnerable groups, he added.
“The outlook shows us that together we can cautiously and prudently but with determination take back the freedom that the virus took,” Nehammer told reporters.
“From March 5, most of the restrictions that are burdening people will be lifted.”
Nehammer warned that the pandemic was not over yet, adding “coronavirus is still part of our lives” and that vaccination “remains important”.
Switzerland and Austria will thus join European countries including the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway in dropping most restrictions.
“Thanks to the high level of immunity among the population, it is unlikely that the healthcare system will be overburdened despite the continued high level of virus circulation,” the Swiss government said.
“This means that the conditions are in place for a rapid normalisation of social and economic life.”
To get into Switzerland, it will no longer be necessary to provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test, or complete an entry form.
Though Covid passes are being dropped domestically, Switzerland will still issue vaccination/recovery certificates that are recognised by the surrounding European Union.
Restrictions on large-scale public events and private gatherings are also being dropped from Thursday.
This month Austria became the first EU country to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory. The law, stipulating fines from mid-March for those who refuse to get jabbed, took effect on February 5.
Nehammer said the government is setting up a commission of health and judicial experts to evaluate the law before penalties are imposed given the new opening up of restrictions.
Switzerland has registered more than 2.6 million Covid-19 cases and over 12,500 deaths during the pandemic while Austria has recorded more than 2.3 million cases with more than 14,400 deaths.
The vaccination rates are almost identical with Switzerland at 70 percent and Austria at 69 percent.
Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis was elected by parliament Wednesday as the country’s next president, set to lead in 2022 amid deepening tensions over the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cassis, who will take on the largely symbolic role on January 1, insisted in his acceptance speech that “we will not allow ourselves to be divided”.
The choice of Cassis came as no surprise since it was his turn among the seven members of the Swiss government to take on the rotating one-year presidency.
The 60-year-old member of the conservative Liberal Party, who joined the government in 2017, will continue serving as Switzerland’s top diplomat while carrying out his presidential duties.
He will replace Economy Minister Guy Parmelin at the helm.
Cassis was elected with 156 out of 197 possible votes — a relatively poor score for the foreign minister, who has faced significant criticism for gaffes and inconsistent messaging.
Both he and Parmelin have been attacked for the handling of Switzerland’s relations with the European Union, after Bern in May abruptly ended years of talks aimed at sealing a cooperation agreement with Brussels.
As president, Parmelin delivered the bad news, but Cassis was widely blamed in the media for the debacle and accused of minimising the fallout from the rift with the country’s biggest trading partner.
During Wednesday’s rubber-stamp vote, the parliament also elected Health Minister Alain Berset to serve as vice president next year, positioning him to become president in 2023.
As the main face of Switzerland’s Covid response, Berset has faced widespread abuse by those opposed to measures and restrictions, and has even faced death threats.
Opponents slammed a requirement to present a so-called Covid certificate to enter many public venues, claiming it created an “apartheid” system.
They triggered a referendum last month against the law behind the pass, but following a tense campaign marked by unprecedented levels of hostility in the usually tranquil country, 62 percent of voters came out to support it.
Cassis voiced optimism Wednesday that the divisions could be healed, insisting the Swiss could rise to the challenge and would find themselves “stronger and more united than ever.”
A medical doctor by training, Cassis will be only the fifth politician from Switzerland’s Italian-speaking minority to serve as president.
Goalkeeper Unai Simon was the hero as Spain edged past 10-man Switzerland 3-1 on penalties on Friday to set up a Euro 2020 semi-final against either Belgium or Italy.
After a 1-1 draw in Saint Petersburg which saw the Swiss play for 43 minutes a man down, Simon made two saves in the shoot-out to help keep Spain’s bid for a record fourth European crown alive.
“Football was just there. We are deserved winners,” said Simon, who made an embarrassing error in the 5-3 last-16 win over Croatia.
“Just like we had to erase the memory of that mistake in the last match, it’s time to quickly forget this triumph because we face a tough rival in the next match.”
It was heartbreak for Switzerland, who were bidding for reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history.
Spain forged ahead early on when Denis Zakaria put through his own net, but Switzerland were the better side for long periods and Xherdan Shaqiri, standing in for the suspended Granit Xhaka as captain, equalised in the 68th minute.
The Swiss were reduced to 10 men with 13 minutes remaining, though, when midfielder Remo Freuler was controversially dismissed for a tackle on Gerard Moreno.
Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, the hero of the penalty shoot-out win over world champions France in the last 16, made a string of fine saves in extra time.
But Simon saved from Fabian Schaer and Manuel Akanji, while Ruben Vargas blazed over in a tense finale as Spain snuck through, with Mikel Oyarzabal smashing home the winning spot-kick.
Luis Enrique’s men will take on either Belgium or Italy, who meet in Munich later Friday, at Wembley on Tuesday.
“We have to go into the semi-final fresh, confident and with our heads high. We have to win the Euro now,” added Athletic Bilbao’s Simon.
After scoring 10 goals in their previous two matches, this was a return to the type of profligate performances which saw Spain draw their first two group games against Sweden and Poland.
But the 2008 and 2012 winners had made a dream start to this quarter-final, taking the lead in fortunate circumstances in only the eighth minute.
A corner was cleared only as far as Jordi Alba, whose left-footed volley was diverted past Sommer by Switzerland midfielder Zakaria, only playing in place of Xhaka.
It was the 10th own goal of Euro 2020, more than the other 15 editions combined.
Alvaro Morata wasted an excellent opportunity by heading too close to Sommer when unmarked, but then Switzerland started to grow into the game.
Switzerland had a brilliant chance for a leveller in the 64th minute, as Shaqiri sparked a quick counter-attack which ended with Simon reacting well to keep out Steven Zuber’s stabbed effort at his near post.
But the underdogs found the equaliser they deserved four minutes later, as Freuler latched onto a loose ball after a mix-up in the Spanish defence and squared for Shaqiri to slot into the far corner and score his third goal of the tournament.
The pattern of the game changed in the 77th minute though, when referee Michael Oliver gave Freuler his marching orders for a sliding challenge on Spanish substitute Moreno.
Switzerland managed to keep Spain at bay until the end of normal time with relative ease, but in the third minute of the additional half an hour Moreno should have put Spain back in front, only to miskick Alba’s cross wide from close range.
Switzerland were perhaps lucky not to have another man sent off shortly afterwards, when Silvan Widmer escaped a second yellow card for a cynical foul on Dani Olmo.
Moreno somehow passed up another golden opportunity, denied at point-blank range by Sommer, before the Borussia Moenchengladbach stopper made an excellent diving save from Oyarzabal.
Sommer made eight saves in extra time alone, but his one in the shoot-out from Rodri was not enough, despite Sergio Busquets also hitting the post, as Switzerland missed three of their four penalties.
England can avenge decades of hurt at the hands of Germany when they face their old rivals in a blockbuster Euro 2020 last-16 clash on Tuesday after the tournament was rocked by France’s stunning exit.
Gareth Southgate’s side host Germany at Wembley at 1600 GMT in what is England’s biggest match on home turf for 25 years.
England beat the Germans to win the 1966 World Cup final, but their major tournament history has been littered with painful exits against them since then.
A quarter-final loss at the 1970 World Cup ended England’s reign as champions, while the 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat on penalties is still etched in the nation’s psyche.
When England last played at home in a tournament, Southgate was the Euro 96 fall guy as he missed a crucial penalty in the semi-final shoot-out defeat.
There was also a heavy defeat at the 2010 World Cup yet Southgate, aware of the debilitating weight of that history, insists the tie is not a chance to exorcise the ghosts of past England failures.
Instead, he believe it is a chance for his players to add a memorable new chapter to their personal stories.
“This team, I’ve said for a long time, have had so many unique achievements and my focus is on this team and helping them to succeed,” Southgate said.
“This is about our players. This is their moment and it’s their opportunity.”
– ‘Loser goes home’ – Asked if perhaps his Euro 96 pain would give his players extra motivation to win it for him, Southgate said: “Good grief, no. I don’t think we’ll be relying on that!
“So, no, this is about them. This is about them having a chance to achieve something, and certainly not for me to take any shine off of that.”
England have never won the European Championship and a victory against Germany would be only their second knockout stage win in the history of the competition.
In contrast, Germany have been crowned kings of Europe three times, with the most recent success coming in 1996.
However, Germany travelled to London in the unusual position of fearing defeat against England.
Joachim Loew’s team stumbled into the last 16 after rescuing a 2-2 draw against Hungary in their final group game.
Germany are not the intimidating force of old and, with Loew stepping down at the end of the tournament, a defeat would signal the end of an era.
Despite winning the World Cup in 2014, Loew has been criticised for his role in a humiliating group-stage exit from the 2018 World Cup and a series of poor results before the Euro.
“All in all, I thought about it for two seconds,” said Loew ahead of potentially his last game.
“This is my passion. My whole focus is on the match and I hope we will succeed.”
England will have the vast majority of a 40,000 crowd on their side at Wembley and Loew expects a spine-tingling encounter.
“This is a match which electrifies everybody. For both teams, it’s in or out, it’s now or never, the loser goes home,” he said.
The winner will face a quarter-final in Rome against the winner of Tuesday’s late tie between Sweden and Ukraine, which will be played in Glasgow.
– Mbappe misses decisive penalty – Whatever happens on Tuesday it will struggle to live up to the drama of Monday, when world champions France suffered a stunning defeat against Switzerland, losing 5-4 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw in Bucharest as Kylian Mbappe missed the vital kick.
France trailed to Haris Seferovic’s first-half header and could have fallen further behind when Ricardo Rodriguez’s 55th-minute penalty was saved by Hugo Lloris.
Karim Benzema scored twice in 244 seconds immediately after that miss to put France ahead.
Paul Pogba increased their lead with a stunning strike, but Seferovic struck again in the 81st minute and Mario Gavranovic equalised in stoppage time.
Yann Sommer was Switzerland’s hero in the shootout as the goalkeeper saved Mbappe’s penalty to seal an incredible giant-killing.
“Penalties are always cruel for one team and unfortunately it was us,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“We are not used to it, but we will have to accept it.”
In the quarter-finals, Switzerland face Spain, who hit back for an epic 5-3 extra-time win against Croatia after blowing the lead in Copenhagen.
Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres netted to put Spain 3-1 ahead with 13 minutes left after Pedri’s own goal had given Croatia the lead.
Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic scored in the last five minutes to force extra time, but Spain prevailed thanks to goals from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal.
Wales took a big step towards the Euro 2020 knockout phase on Wednesday with a 2-0 victory over Turkey in Baku, before rejuvenated Italy look to seal their place in the last 16 with victory against Switzerland.
After drawing 1-1 with the Swiss in their opening Group A game, Wales now have four points from two matches after goals from Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts saw off a disappointing Turkey.
“You’d like to think so, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Wales captain Gareth Bale when asked if his team had done enough to get through.
“If you’d offered us four points at the start we would’ve bitten your hand off.”
Senol Gunes’ side, roared on by the majority of the crowd in Azerbaijan, have lost both of their games without scoring and face a mountain to climb if they are to qualify.
Wales, semi-finalists five years ago, should have won more convincingly, but wasted several chances including a second-half penalty which was blazed over by Bale.
Up to 4,000 Turkish fans travelled for the game, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but Wales immediately were on the front foot and Ramsey wasted two excellent chances early on.
He made no mistake three minutes before the break, though, chesting down Bale’s pass and slotting home.
Bale, whose future at Real Madrid is uncertain, won a penalty just after the hour mark but was uncharacteristically wayward from the spot.
Merih Demiral, left on the bench after his own goal in Turkey’s 3-0 loss to Italy last week, almost made amends as a substitute in the 87th minute but was denied by an excellent save from Welsh goalkeeper Danny Ward.
Robert Page’s Wales grabbed the second goal their performance deserved in stoppage time, as Bale danced through and teed up Roberts to sweep into the net.
– Italy bid to book last-16 spot – Roberto Mancini’s Italy were impressive in their first outing and, with home advantage in Rome, will be confident of securing qualification for the knockout phase.
The 1968 European champions, on a 28-match unbeaten run, have a rich international pedigree and are desperate to atone for the humiliation of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“The strength of this Italy? It’s the group,” said forward Lorenzo Insigne.
“The coach has created a great group. No one is assured of a place.
“Whoever plays knows what we have to do, to put ourselves at the service of each other.”
In the first match of the day, Russia defeated neighbours Finland 1-0 in Saint Petersburg courtesy of Aleksei Miranchuk’s goal just before half-time to pick up their first points in Group B.
It blows open the section after Russia lost 3-0 to Belgium in their opening game at the weekend. Finland had beaten Denmark 1-0 in Copenhagen on Saturday, a game completely overshadowed by Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest.
– Germany under pressure – On Tuesday, a Mats Hummels own goal proved enough for 2018 World Cup winners France to beat Germany 1-0 in a blockbuster Group F match in Munich on Tuesday.
France deserved the win, with both Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema having second-half goals disallowed for offside calls while Adrien Rabiot also hit the post for Les Bleus.
“It’s our first match, but this is a game that could have been a semi-final or a final and to take these three points in a group like this was important,” France coach Didier Deschamps told broadcaster M6.
Germany’s opening defeat in the “Group of Death” turns up the pressure on coach Joachim Loew, who is taking charge of a tournament for the last time.
“It’s up to us to crank things up in the next two or three days,” said Loew. “We have to look to improve, because we need a goal or two.”
Germany’s next game is against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Euro 2016 winners, who got off to the perfect start by beating Hungary 3-0 in Budapest.
Ronaldo marked the occasion by netting his 10th and 11th European Championship goals, surpassing the record of nine he shared with France legend Michel Platini.
The 36-year-old Juventus forward has now scored in five different European Championship finals and has 106 goals for his country, leaving him just three away from matching Iranian Ali Daei’s all-time international scoring record of 109.
Switzerland votes Sunday on proposals to ban synthetic pesticides following a campaign that has shattered the idyllic image of peaceful Swiss Alpine pastures by sharply dividing opinion.
The Swiss are also voting on a series of hot topics, including anti-terror measures and Covid-19 laws.
Polling stations close at 1000 GMT, with most people having voted by post. Results will be known before the end of the day.
Voters must decide whether they approve a Covid-19 law that extends government powers to fight the pandemic and mitigate its consequences on society and the economy.
But the two anti-pesticide proposals have triggered the most noise, in an electoral campaign marked by fiery debates between farmers.
The campaign boiled over in the western Vaud region when arsonists torched a trailer in a field displaying banners calling for a “No” vote, infuriating farmers.
Meanwhile farmers in the “Yes” campaign say they have been the victims of insults, threats and intimidation.
The first popular initiative, entitled “For a Switzerland free from synthetic pesticides”, calls for a domestic ban within 10 years, while imported foodstuffs produced using such pesticides would also be outlawed.
Under the second, “For clean drinking water and healthy food”, only farms that do not use pesticides and use antibiotics only to treat sick animals would be eligible for government subsidies.
The amount of liquid manure being used on fields, and thereby potentially entering the water system, would also be limited.
Environmentalists and the political left back both initiatives.
The Swiss government wants a double “No” vote, arguing the proposals would undermine national food sovereignty.
Switzerland is also home to Syngenta, one of the largest manufacturers of plant protection products, which was bought by the Chinese giant ChemChina in 2017.
Though urban voters are largely in favour, and rural voters seem set to vote “No”, polls indicate that both proposals are likely to be rejected.
– Tight fight on CO2 –
Under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, referendums and popular votes occur every few months at national, regional and local levels.
Any idea from the public can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures from the 8.6 million population.
Meanwhile, 50,000 signatures are needed to trigger a referendum on new laws agreed by parliament.
Environmental protection is also at stake in a referendum on new carbon dioxide laws.
The law would use tax policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 — including financial incentives to install charging points for electric vehicles and to market vehicles that consume less fuel.
It would also increase the tax on fuel oil and natural gas, as well as introduce a tax on outbound flight tickets.
Opponents say the measures will be expensive and mainly affect people on low and middle incomes.
Polls suggest the outcome hangs in the balance.
– Terror and human rights –
A clear majority, however, is expected to back extending police powers to combat terrorism, despite warnings from the United Nations and Amnesty International.
The law allows the police to take preventative action more easily when faced with a “potential terrorist”.
If police believe that someone over the age of 12 is contemplating violent actions, the law allows them to conduct greater surveillance, limit their movements and oblige them to face questioning.
And with a court order, they can also place anyone over the age of 15 under house arrest for up to nine months.
Left-wing opponents of the law believe it endangers Switzerland’s human rights heritage.
The country has so far been spared the large-scale attacks seen in European neighbours, but the authorities nonetheless insist the threat level is high.
The referendum on Covid-19 laws seems set to pass comfortably.
Any emergency measures introduced by the government — as with its moves to combat the pandemic — are time-limited and therefore need firming up if they are to continue.
The laws also regulate financial aid granted to individuals and businesses, including compensation for loss of income, and support for cultural organisations.
Swiss regulators said Wednesday that data submitted by AstraZeneca were not yet sufficient for it to authorise use of the Anglo-Swedish firm’s COVID-19 vaccine and “new studies” were needed.
The Swissmedic regulatory authority said it had been examining information from AstraZeneca but that it was “not yet sufficient to permit authorisation”.
“To obtain more information about safety, efficacy and quality, additional data from new studies are needed,” it said in a statement.
Switzerland has so far given the green light to Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
It had been expected to authorise the AstraZeneca jab soon, after the neighbouring European Union last week gave the vaccine the go-ahead.
But while the EU granted approval for use in all people over the age of 18, several European countries have advised against giving the jabs to people over 65, citing lack of evidence that it was effective among the elderly.
Swissmedic said a meeting of its external advisory body on Tuesday had confirmed its interim assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine data.
“The data currently available do not point to a positive decision regarding benefits and risks,” it said.
“To obtain a conclusive assessment, the applicant will among other things have to submit additional efficacy data from a Phase 3 trial under way in North and South America, and these will have to be analysed.
“As soon as the results have been received, a temporary authorisation according to the rolling procedure could be issued at very short notice,” it added.
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca meanwhile stressed in an email that the company’s jab had already been granted emergency use authorisation “in close to 50 countries, spanning four continents, including most recently in the European Union.”
“We are confident that our vaccine is effective, well-tolerated, and can have a real impact on the pandemic.”
The spokesperson said the company would “continue to share new data as it becomes available and work with Swissmedic to make Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca available in Switzerland as soon as possible.”
– 17 mn more doses – Switzerland, which kicked off vaccination against the coronavirus in late December, meanwhile announced Wednesday that it had signed three more contracts to acquire another 17 million vaccine doses.
The country of 8.5 million people said it had reached an agreement with Germany’s Curevac, whose vaccine is in Phase 3 trials, and the Swedish government for the delivery of five million doses.
It said it had also signed a preliminary agreement with US firm Novavax for six million doses.
These will add two new vaccines to the Swiss portfolio, if they are approved by regulators.
At the same time, the Swiss government had also signed a deal to acquire an additional six million doses of the Moderna vaccine, bringing the total number of those jabs available in Switzerland to 13.5 million.
In addition, the government has signed deals for access to around three million Pfizer-BioNTech doses and 5.3 million AstraZeneca doses.