Crashed Japanese F-35 wreckage found in Pacific, pilot still missing

A Japan Coast Guard vessel and a U.S. military aircraft conduct rescue and search operations at the site where an Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, off Aomori prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 10, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – Search and rescue teams found wreckage from a crashed Japanese F-35 stealth fighter in the Pacific Ocean close to northern Japan, and are scouring the waters for the missing pilot, authorities said on Wednesday.

The aircraft, less than a year old, was the first F-35 assembled in Japan and was aloft for only 28 minutes on Tuesday before contact was lost, a defense official said. The plane had logged a total of 280 hours in the air, he added.

It was only the second F-35 to crash since the aircraft’s first flight in 2006 and could reignite concern about the F-35 having only one engine.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin is competing for orders in Finland and Switzerland against the twin-engined Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F jet.

The accident could influence Switzerland’s decision, but Finland could still pick the F-35 as it is close to Russia, said Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“I would be surprised if there was a common catastrophic fault hidden away in the F-35A,” he added. “It’s pretty unlikely given the large number of flight hours already completed.”

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet, which Kyodo says is the same plane that crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-35A stealth fighter jet, which Kyodo says is the same plane that crashed during an exercise on April 9, 2019, is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

CAUSE UNKNOWN

The advanced, single-seat jet disappeared in good weather about 135 km (84 miles) east of the Misawa air base in Aomori prefecture at about 7:27 p.m. (1027 GMT), the Air Self Defense Force said.

“We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35,” a spokesman said.

Eight ships and seven aircraft, including a U.S. Navy P-8 Orion maritime patrol plane, joined the search and rescue effort.

The aircraft was leading three F-35s on training maneuvers when it sent an “aborting practice” signal and disappeared from radar, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters.

The pilot, who had 3,200 hours of flying time, but had spent only 60 hours in the F-35, gave no other indication he was in trouble, the ASDF spokesman said.

“We’ll need to cooperate with the U.S. forces and I believe arrangements are being made,” Iwaya said, adding that the cause of the incident would have to be determined.

The crashed aircraft was the fifth delivered to the ASDF, but the first assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, a second ASDF official told Reuters. Japan’s 12 remaining F-35s are grounded for now, he added.

The previous four were used for training in the United States before being brought to Japan, the defense official said.

No other countries operating the F-35 have grounded their stealth aircraft. Britain said it was reviewing the status of its 17 F-35B fighters for now.

Australia is also waiting, the Australian newspaper has said. A spokesman for the Royal Australian Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said it had no immediate comment. The company assembles the aircraft at a plant near Nagoya in central Japan. The lost aircraft cost 14 billion yen ($126 million), several million more than one bought directly from the United States.

The aircraft crashed in waters whose depth reaches about 1,500 meters (4,920 ft), making recovery, particularly of its flight data recorder, or black box, difficult, the official said.

Without the device, investigators could study the aircraft’s classified communications and data sharing system for clues, an industry source said on condition of anonymity.

ONLY SECOND F35 TO CRASH

The ASDF received the aircraft, designed to penetrate enemy defenses by evading radar detection, last May, its spokesman said.

Japan’s first squadron of F-35s has just become operational at Misawa, and the government plans to buy 87 of the stealth fighters to modernize its air defenses as neighboring China and Russia upgrade their military forces.

Lockheed said it was standing by to support the Japanese Air Self Defense Force as needed. The Pentagon said it was monitoring the situation.

The crash was the first of the A variant of the fifth-generation fighter. A U.S. Marine Corps short take-off and landing (STOVL) F-35B version crashed near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina in September, prompting a temporary grounding of the aircraft. Lockheed also makes a C version of the fighter designed to operate off carriers.

Japan’s new F-35s include 18 STOVL B planes it plans to deploy on its islands along the edge of the East China Sea.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Jamie Freed in Singapore; Chris Gallagher, Chang-Ran Kim and Takashi Umekawa in Tokyo, and Idrees Ali and Chris Sanders in Washington; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump cancels planned Davos trip as shutdown drags on

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office about immigration and the southern U.S. border on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a planned visit later this month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, signaling he was prepared for the political showdown over the partial federal government shutdown to stretch into late January.

It was unclear whether the shutdown, now in its 20th day, would end before the start of the global economic meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 22 to 25. Trump and congressional Democrats are in a battle over funding for the government and Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Because of the Democrats intransigence on Border Security and the great importance of Safety for our Nation, I am respectfully cancelling my very important trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president had told reporters at the White House earlier on Thursday that he intended to speak at the forum but would not attend if the shutdown continued.

The cancellation quashes any opportunity for Trump to meet with other world leaders about economic issues, including trade.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters after a briefing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he was talking with the White House about whether he would still make the trip to Switzerland.

“My guess is if we do continue it, it will be in a scaled-back version,” Mnuchin said.

The Trump administration is engaged in trade talks with the European Union and China, among others.

China and the United States have agreed to a 90-day pause in implementing tariffs in order to hammer out a trade deal.

China’s vice president, Wang Qishan, was expected to attend the Swiss meeting, but it was unclear whether any talks had been planned between him and Trump.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)

Finland is world’s happiest country, U.S. discontent grows: U.N. report

People enjoy a sunnny day at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Finland is the world’s happiest country, according to an annual survey issued on Wednesday that found Americans were getting less happy even as their country became richer.

Burundi came bottom in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) 2018 World Happiness Report which ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns said access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare were among the best things about in their country.

 

FILE PHOTO: Finland's flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Finland’s flag flutters in Helsinki, Finland, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

“I’ve joked with the other Americans that we are living the American dream here in Finland,” said Brianna Owens, who moved from the United States and is now a teacher in Espoo, Finland’s second biggest city with a population of around 280,000.

“I think everything in this society is set up for people to be successful, starting with university and transportation that works really well,” Owens told Reuters.

Finland, rose from fifth place last year to oust Norway from the top spot. The 2018 top-10, as ever dominated by the Nordics, is: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

The United States came in at 18th, down from 14th place last year. Britain was 19th and the United Arab Emirates 20th.

One chapter of the 170-page report is dedicated to emerging health problems such as obesity, depression and the opioid crisis, particularly in the United States where the prevalence of all three has grown faster than in most other countries.

While U.S. income per capita has increased markedly over the last half century, happiness has been hit by weakened social support networks, a perceived rise in corruption in government and business and declining confidence in public institutions.

“We obviously have a social crisis in the United States: more inequality, less trust, less confidence in government,” the head of the SDSN, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of New York’s Columbia University, told Reuters as the report was launched at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“It’s pretty stark right now. The signs are not good for the U.S. It is getting richer and richer but not getting happier.”

Asked how the current political situation in the United States could affect future happiness reports, Sachs said:

“Time will tell, but I would say that in general that when confidence in government is low, when perceptions of corruption are high, inequality is high and health conditions are worsening … that is not conducive to good feelings.”

For the first time since it was started in 2012, the report, which uses a variety of polling organizations, official figures and research methods, ranked the happiness of foreign-born immigrants in 117 countries.

Finland took top honors in that category too, giving the country a statistical double-gold status.

The foreign-born were least happy in Syria, which has been mired in civil war for seven years.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said Professor John Helliwell of Canada’s University of British Columbia.

“Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” he said.

“Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Reuters television in Finland; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

In Switzerland, dismay as papers on secret Cold War army vanish

Visitors walk through a tunnel at the former Swiss artillery fortress Reuenthal near the village of Reuenthal, Switzerland July 18,

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – A covert Swiss Cold War paramilitary group that operated largely outside civilian oversight until 1990 is back in the news after top-secret documents linked to the organization vanished from official archives.

The group, called “Projekt 26” or P-26, had roots in the 1950s when the Swiss military began assembling a guerrilla-style force to resist a Communist invasion. P-26 was disbanded in 1990 after revelations of its existence prompted a public scandal.

This week the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported the Federal Department of Defence could not find 27 unpublished folders and dossiers from an investigation into the group three decades ago.

Critics fear the documents were destroyed or intentionally misplaced to hide embarrassing details about neutral Switzerland’s surreptitious advances toward NATO or clandestine ties to foreign spy agencies.

“There are three possibilities: The papers were shredded, hidden or lost, in that order of likelihood,” said Josef Lang, a historian and former Swiss parliament member.

“But even if the most innocent option is the case, that’s also a scandal.”

A Defence Department spokesman told Reuters that efforts to locate the missing documents continued.

“Defence Department and Federal Archives staff are sifting through papers now,” the spokesman said. “Whether documents have been destroyed is pure speculation for now.”

Secret Cold War-era groups such as P-26 were not uncommon in Europe, whose NATO members feared a Warsaw Pact attack and organized “stay behind” units with orders to operate behind enemy lines in case of a Soviet invasion.

A paramilitary network historians say was supported mostly by the United States and Britain included units in Italy, Belgium, France, Greece, West Germany and the Netherlands.

In 1991, Switzerland’s probe into P-26 concluded that while it was not part of any “international resistance network”, it had unusually intense ties to British agents starting in 1967.

“Though the loyalty of former chiefs of staff was never in doubt, it is alarming that the British services knew more about P-26 than the Swiss government did,” the government wrote at the time, calling unilateral military initiatives without civilian oversight “intolerable”.

Lang contended there may be much more in the missing documents than the scant details that have been released previously, including whether P-26 ever had any plans to intervene in Swiss domestic affairs.

“P-26 exemplifies the Cold War hysteria that, at least partially, undermined Swiss democratic institutions,” Lang said.

(Editing by William Maclean)

Syria investigator del Ponte signs off with a sting

Carla del Ponte, member of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic attends a news conference into events in Aleppo at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2017.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Veteran prosecutor Carla del Ponte signed off from the United Nations Syria investigation on Monday by criticizing the U.N. Security Council and telling Syria’s ambassador his government had used chemical weapons.

The former Swiss attorney general, who went on to prosecute war crimes in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, said in August she was resigning from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria because of a lack of political backing.

Bidding farewell to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which set up the Commission of Inquiry six years ago, Del Ponte said she had quit out of frustration.

“We could not obtain from the international community and the Security Council a resolution putting in place a tribunal, an ad hoc tribunal for all the crimes that are committed in Syria,” she said.

“Seven years of crime in Syria and total impunity. That is not acceptable.”

Del Ponte told a Swiss newspaper last month enough evidence existed to convict President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes.

Her departure leaves only two remaining commissioners of the inquiry, Karen Koning AbuZayd and the chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, who said that eventually, a great many people would have to answer “as to why they did not act sooner to stop the carnage”.

“The deadlock at the Security Council on Syria is reprehensible and, at times, bewildering,” he told the Human Rights Council.

Leaving the council, del Ponte told Syria’s ambassador that she had been right to quickly reach the conclusion that Assad’s government had used chemical weapons during an attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April.

“It was me, mister ambassador,” she said.

“I said that in my opinion and based on the elements we already had, the Syrian government was responsible. Today we have the confirmation after an official commission’s inquiry. So now, we ask for justice, we ask justice for those victims.”

 

(Reporting by Tom Miles and Cecile Mantovani; editing by Andrew Roche)

 

Turkish tensions with Europe risk spilling into Switzerland

European Union (L) and Turkish flags fly outside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

By Michael Shields

ZURICH (Reuters) – Neutral Switzerland risks getting swept up in Turkey’s political row with European countries as Swiss authorities weigh how to handle Turks’ requests for asylum and a call to ban a rally on Sunday by Turkey’s foreign minister.

The government was keeping a low profile on Thursday, saying only that it was reviewing a request by financial capital Zurich to block a planned weekend appearance by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for security reasons.

The Hilton hotel booked for the rally canceled the event, saying organizers could not ensure the safety of guests and visitors.

It comes amid a series of speaking engagements to galvanize support among the Turkish community for President Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to increase his powers in a referendum on April 16.

The foreign ministry declined to comment on media reports that several Turks with diplomatic passports, including the second-ranking envoy in Bern, had sought asylum after President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown in the wake of a failed coup last year.

The State Secretariat for Migration, which handles asylum requests, said it does not comment on individual requests for refugee status. It referred instead to a government response this week to a parliamentary query on the matter.

That note said 408 Turkish citizens had sought asylum since the July coup attempt, including some holders of diplomatic passports. It said it could not comment further on the “very few individual cases” among diplomats for fear it could give away their identities.

Turkish embassy officials in Bern were not immediately available by phone and did not respond to an email seeking comment.

During a visit to neighboring Germany on Wednesday, Cavusoglu accused Berlin of hostility towards his country and Islam as acrimony between the NATO allies showed no sign of abating.

On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkey to stop comparing the German government to the Nazis over the cancellation of Turkish ministers’ rallies in Germany, only for Cavusoglu to repeat the comparison.

Ankara is furious over the cancellations. Germany has said the rallies can go ahead if the organizers respect local laws, but has canceled several rallies, citing security concerns.

In Austria, the interior minister said this week he wanted to change legislation to permit a ban on foreign officials making speeches in Austria if human rights or public order were threatened, a move aimed at Turkish politicians.

Swiss government statistics show around 68,000 Turkish citizens live in Switzerland, a nation of 8.3 million whose population is a quarter foreign. The Turkish embassy’s website refers to around 130,000 Turkish citizens.

(Additional reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Three people hurt in shooting near Zurich Islamic center

Police stand outside an Islamic center in central Zurich, Switzerland

By Michael Shields and Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) – Three people were hurt in a shooting near an Islamic center in central Zurich on Monday, police said.

Swiss media said a suspect was on the run after the incident near the main train station in Switzerland’s financial capital.

Zurich police confirmed people had been hurt in an incident on Zurich’s Eisgasse, but gave no more details.

Police had sealed off the area. Some police were standing near the entrance of the building, where an Islamic center and several businesses are registered.

It was not immediately clear whether the Islamic center or any of the other businesses were the target of the attack.

Across Switzerland, two thirds of 8.3 million residents identify as Christians. But the nation has been wrestling with the role of Islam as its Muslim population has risen to 5 percent with the arrival of immigrants from former Yugoslavia.

In 2009, a nationwide vote backed a constitutional ban on new minarets.

Three police vehicles and one ambulance were at the scene shortly before 7 p.m. (1750 GMT), while one ambulance had just driven away, a Reuters witness said. Roughly 20 police officers were present.

(Writing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Alison Williams)

French foie gras makers worry as bird flu spreads in Europe

Employee holds a duck liver in at a poultry farm in Doazit, Southwestern France,

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) – New outbreaks in Europe of a severe strain of bird flu pose a fresh worry for French foie gras producers, already reeling from lost sales last year when the virus emerged in southwestern France.

The run-up to Christmas coincides with peak demand for the delicacy, France’s favorite festive treat, made from duck or goose liver.

Marie-Pierre Pe from foie gras makers group CIFOG, said on Monday that prices could be 10 percent higher this Christmas after the French government’s decision last year to cull all ducks and geese, and halt output for four months, in a bid to contain the virus.

Farmers hope that stricter measures in place at French farms to spare birds from contamination after last year’s crisis will better protect their industry should the current outbreak of the H5N8 strain, already seen in neighboring Germany and Switzerland and other European countries, hit France.

“When I heard about new bird flu cases in Europe, I thought: It can’t be true, the nightmare is not going to start all over again,” Pe told Reuters.

“We did all that is needed to prepare farmers since the start of the year but we are never immune from birds contaminating a farm,” she said.

Producers estimate the freezing of output had cost the industry around 500 million euros ($539 million), including a 270 million euros loss in sales and additional costs for new biosecurity material.

The 25 percent drop in output and higher costs will lead to the rise in prices of foie gras products this year, Pe said.

Sold whole or as a pate, foie gras is considered a gourmet food in Western and Asian cuisine, but the practice of force-feeding has often been criticized as cruel by animal activists.

CIFOG held regular meetings with farmers this year to explain biosecurity measures put in place after the crisis, such as better protecting food and water from wild birds, Pe said. Farmers in southwestern France, the top foie gras producing region, also face stricter rules to avoid contamination between farms, notably through equipment disinfection.

As well as Germany and Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Croatia, have also reported outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 bird flu in recent weeks.

No case of bird flu has been found in France so far this time but the country raised surveillance measures on Thursday to keep wild migrating birds from transmitting the virus to farm poultry.

Denmark ordered farmers to keep their poultry indoors on Monday due to the bird flu threat and Germany said it was considering ordering farmers to keep their flocks inside.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Swiss voters likely to back new law on surveillance: survey

Camera looking over Swiss resort

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Voters in Switzerland on Sunday are likely to back a law extending the spy service’s authority to monitor internet traffic, deploy drones and hack foreign computer systems to combat militant attacks, a survey shows.

Switzerland’s system of direct democracy gives citizens final say on the law passed in September 2015 which will give new powers to the Federal Intelligence Service, along with rules on when the agency can use them.

In a survey last week by polling group gfs.bern on behalf of Swiss state television, 53 percent were in favor of the law, with 35 percent opposed. Twelve percent were undecided, gfs.bern said.

Though neutral Switzerland has not been targeted by the sort of militant Islamist attacks seen elsewhere in Europe, the Swiss government contends previous intelligence laws are outdated and ill-equipped to tackle threats that have intensified as militants deploy new technology in a tight-knit global network.

“The Federal Intelligence Service will get modern information-gathering tools, including for surveillance of telephone calls or internet activities,” the government said. “These can only be deployed under strict conditions.”

For instance, the agency must get the government’s go-ahead before deploying software to penetrate foreign computer networks. When gathering information, its agents must “employ methods least likely to intrude on the targeted person’s civil rights”, according to the law.

Across Europe, countries including France have expanded spy agency powers, following Islamist attacks that have shifted some governments’ priorities from privacy to security.

Switzerland has prosecuted several people it contends aided Islamic State and sought to strip citizenship from a man suspected of traveling to Syria to fight with the group.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Swiss tell EU: Hands off veterans’ assault rifles

Participants fire their infantry and assault rifles during the traditional 'Ruetlischiessen' (Ruetli shooting) competition at the Ruetli meadow in central Switzerland

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Friction between Switzerland and the European Union over the bloc’s plans to tighten gun control following a rise in militant attacks could turn into another serious snag in ties already tested by Swiss efforts to curb immigration.

The proposed directive, which applies to non-EU member Switzerland only because it is part of Europe’s Schengen open border system, has raised hackles among the Swiss, who resent intervention from Brussels.

Christoph Blocher, a leading voice of the Swiss right and a eurosceptic, says Switzerland should consider abandoning Europe’s Schengen system of passport-free travel if the Swiss people rejected the proposed measures in a referendum.

Drafted after militants killed scores in attacks in Paris last year, the EU plans on gun control aimed to curb online weapons sales and impose more restrictions on assault weapons.

But the initial proposal provoked an outcry in Switzerland because it meant a ban on the long Swiss tradition of ex-soldiers keeping their assault rifles.

Participants use an umbrella to protect their infantry and assault rifles against rain during the traditional 'Ruetlischiessen' (Ruetli shooting) competition at the Ruetli meadow in central Switzerland

Participants use an umbrella to protect their infantry and assault rifles against rain during the traditional ‘Ruetlischiessen’ (Ruetli shooting) competition at the Ruetli meadow in central Switzerland November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

Then, two months ago, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga returned from meetings in Brussels saying she had successfully negotiated against such a ban. But the fine print was more complicated: EU members demanded concessions including psychological tests and club membership.

Swiss gun rights proponents are now complaining this could disarm thousands of law-abiding citizens and that it would encroach on Switzerland’s heritage and national identity that includes a well-armed citizenry.

“When conflicts arise, Switzerland must put its sovereignty first,” said Blocher, a businessman and vice president of the SVP, which is the country’s biggest party. “In an emergency, Switzerland should be ready to exit Schengen.”

Switzerland has one of the highest rates of private gun ownership in Europe, with nearly 48 percent of households owning a gun. In France, there are about 30 weapons per 100 people, while the figure in the Great Britain is far lower, at 6.7 guns per 100 civilians, according to the Australian-based think tank GunPolicy.org.

However, Swiss gun-related crime is low and the high number of privately owned guns harks back to a long tradition of self-defence and to the Swiss policy of near-universal conscription.

In 2015, 11 percent of the 20,600 soldiers who left the Swiss Army opted to keep their assault rifles which upon departure are modified to fire single shots. The number of soldiers choosing to keep their weapons has been declining for several years.

Switzerland’s grassroots gun lobby ProTELL, named after the 14th-century folk hero William Tell, said it will take the matter to voters if the European gun restrictions result in stricter ownership standards on Swiss soil.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, groups like ProTELL can gather signatures and put such matters before voters.

“With our direct democracy, Swiss people are accustomed to having the last word,” said ProTell’s Dominik Riner. “We’re opposed to any and all efforts to make current weapons laws more restrictive.”

The gun control issue comes as Switzerland’s EU ties are strained on multiple fronts.

The two sides are negotiating immigration curbs after Swiss voters in 2014 backed quotas on European workers. A failure to agree could mean the collapse of bilateral accords with Swiss’ main trading partner.

Outlines of any deal may emerge when European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker visits on Sept. 19, but the clock is ticking: Switzerland has said it may enact unilateral curbs by February 2017.

Europe plans to finalize its gun directive later this year.

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Bacynska in Brussels; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)