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Uproar Over Swiss Apology to Libya

Switzerland is in an uproar over the government's decision to apologize to Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi, for the arrest of his son and daughter-in-law last year in Geneva for abusing their domestic servants. Libya had demanded an apology as the price of re-establishing normal relations.

Criminal charges against Muammar Gadhafi's son, Hannibal and his pregnant daughter-in-law were dropped after the two abused domestic servants reached an out-of court settlement and withdrew their complaint.

Nevertheless, Libya was quick to retaliate against this insult. It arrested two Swiss businessmen, threatened to cut off crude oil deliveries, withdrew its money from Swiss banks, and told Swiss International Air Lines it could no longer fly to Tripoli.

Mr. Gadhafi demanded an apology for the so-called unjustified arrest of his son and daughter-in-law as the price for letting the Swiss nationals return home and for ending economic sanctions.

The government resisted this demand for more than a year. But, finally gave in. The Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz went to Tripoli to personally apologize to leader Gadhafi.

Under an agreement signed by the two sides, a three person independent arbitration panel will be set up to decide whether the Geneva police handled the arrest appropriately.

Swiss People's Party Member of Parliament, Luza Strom is incensed at the way the government has handled this matter.

"I had the feeling the Geneva police did not make any mistakes. And, if that is the case, it is a scandal that we apologize," said Strom. "I am afraid that Switzerland made concessions just because of two individuals who are in a really difficult situation. And, the country should not do that because if the country starts to do this, any terrorist in the world could start hijacking somebody and then our country would be forced to make concessions."

As it is, Swiss president Merz is being criticized for leaving Libya without the two detained Swiss citizens in tow. Libya says they would be released soon.

This has not been a good week for Switzerland. The Gadhafi affair follows concessions by Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS, to turn over data on 4,500 wealthy American clients suspected of tax evasion to U.S. authorities.

And now, the government is being criticized for groveling before leader Gadhafi.

One dissenting voice is Libya's Geneva lawyer, Charles Poncet, who says he is very happy that Bern and Tripoli have managed to overcome their differences.

"In my view, this could have been handled with a little bit-you know, a little bit of skill. This would have been over a long time ago," said Poncet. "And, I am just surprised that it took so long quite frankly."

In the aftermath of their arrest, the Gadhafi couple filed a civil suit against the Geneva police. Poncet says a hearing due next month would be suspended as a first step and then withdrawn.