- - Sunday, March 11, 2012


Voters reject 6 weeks of paid vacation

BERN | Swiss citizens appear to be leading the way on European austerity, apparently rejecting a minimum of six weeks of paid vacation a year.

Swiss polls closed Sunday on several national referendums, including one pushed by a union to raise the minimum holiday from four weeks.

An exit poll by Swiss public broadcaster SSR projected that when votes were counted, two-thirds would reject the proposal.

Known for their work ethic, the Swiss appeared to heed warnings from government and business that more vacation would put the economy at risk.

As Europeans struggle to control debt through layoffs, wage cuts and tax increases, campaign group Travail.Suisse has argued more break time is needed because of workplace stress.

Many other Europeans get a minimum of four weeks.


Sarkozy threatens pullout of visa-free zone

PARIS | President Nicolas Sarkozy said he will pull France out of the European Union’s coveted visa-free “Schengen” zone unless progress is made on protecting EU borders from illegal immigration.

The pledge came Sunday at a boisterous campaign rally as the conservative leader faces what polls suggest will be a tough battle for him for re-election in April and May.

Mr. Sarkozy also pitched an effort to support purchases of European products within the continent, calling for the creation of a “Buy European Act” modeled on the U.S. “Buy American Act.”

Most recent polls show Mr. Sarkozy would lose by a double-digit percentage margin against Socialist Francois Hollande if, as expected, they qualify April 19 for the decisive, two-candidate presidential runoff on May 6.


Radicals try to seize protest initiative

MOSCOW | The massive rallies in Russia painted a picture of unity among the country’s opposition, with masked nationalists standing together with pro-Western liberals calling for free elections.

But now after numbers dwindled and divisions in unity appeared at the latest rally Saturday, the more radical wings of the protest movement against President-elect Vladimir Putin appear to be splitting off to fight their own separate battles.

Russian nationalist leaders on Sunday vowed to stage a “Russian Tahrir Square” - a reference to the Cairo square that was the center of protests that toppled the Egyptian regime - on the May 1 holiday.

They even appear ready for an unholy alliance with leftist radicals at the other end of the spectrum, who want to stage a “1 million person” protest before Mr. Putin’s inauguration on May 7.

“We need to prepare the Russian Tahrir on May 1,” said nationalist leader Vladimir Basmanov in a statement. “That will be possible if the honest protest leaders agree among themselves.”

The Russian nationalist movement - currently built around an umbrella grouping called “Russians” - is stridently anti-immigrant and unashamed of shouting slogans espousing Slavic supremacy.

Meanwhile, the more liberal figures who have formed the core of the protest organization are unsure about future strategy and openly are questioning whether rallies are the best way to challenge Mr. Putin.


Leftist wins election, vows to back the euro

BRATISLAVA | Slovak leftist leader Robert Fico pledged Sunday to defend the euro after his party won the solid majority in parliamentary elections dominated by voter anger over corruption.

Mr. Fico, whose Smer-SD party picked up 83 seats in the 150-member parliament, will be the first leader to have the overall majority since Slovakia gained independence in 1993.

He said his plans to tax the rich and boost social welfare would not be at odds with the eurozone drive to end the debt crisis.

“The program will be pro-European,” said Mr. Fico, who ushered Slovakia into the eurozone during his first stint as premier from 2006 to 2010. “We want the eurozone preserved and the euro as a strong European currency.”

His party won 44.4 percent of the vote, well ahead of the outgoing SDKU-DS, which saw its support dwindle to just over 6 percent.

Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic said Sunday he would ask Mr. Fico to form a government, but gave no date.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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