Rift emerges in Swiss government over Libya apology | world | Hindustan Times
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Rift emerges in Swiss government over Libya apology

A rare public rift emerged on Sunday in the Swiss cabinet, one of Europe's most stable governments, amid a row over the president's apology to Libya for the arrest of one of the Kadhafi sons.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2009 19:42 IST

A rare public rift emerged on Sunday in the Swiss cabinet, one of Europe's most stable governments, amid a row over the president's apology to Libya for the arrest of one of the Kadhafi sons.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf criticised the apology President Hans-Rudolf Merz made on Thursday to end a year-long standoff that has frozen Swiss-Libyan business ties and left two Swiss businessmen marooned in Tripoli.

"Legally one can't apologise in this case," Widmer-Schlumpf said in an interview with the newspaper Sonntag.

Several other ministers have also indicated they were not aware of the deal until it was announced in Tripoli, amid suggestions that Merz, who is also the finance minister, might have overstepped his powers.

The collegial Federal Council -- which groups five parties across the political spectrum -- has no prime minister, and the president's role is largely a ceremonial one rotated among the seven ministers each year.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer, of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, has backed Merz.

The government is expected to discuss the issue at its next meeting on August 26.

Hannibal Kadhafi, one of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's sons, and his wife were arrested in a luxury Geneva hotel in July 2008 after two of their servants, a Moroccan and a Tunisian, alleged they had been mistreated.

The Kadhafi couple was freed on bail after two days in custody, while the complaint against them was later dropped after a lawyer said the servants had received compensation.

But the incident sparked outrage from the Kadhafi family, a freeze on Swiss business, the withdrawal of Libyan assets from Swiss banks and disruption to oil deliveries, while two employees of engineering giant ABB were prevented from leaving the North African country.

"I express to the Libyan people my apologies for the unjust arrest of Libyan diplomats by Geneva police," Merz said at a joint news conference in Tripoli with Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi.

The Swiss president later said there was "no other choice" and assumed responsibility for the "consequences" of his deal.

Media and politicians have also criticised Merz for returning without the businessmen, and with only a verbal pledge that they would be allowed out by September 1.

Geneva's regional government -- which is responsible for policing under Switzerland's decentralised system -- rebuffed the federal president's deal with Libya and stood by the canton's police force and "independent" judiciary.

The row emerged amid political sparring in Switzerland over the succession of the centre-right interior minister, a fellow Radical party colleague of Merz's, who is retiring on November 1.

Socialist Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has also come under fire for failing to defuse the spat with Libya.