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Wednesday, December 9, 1998 Published at 11:31 GMT

World: Europe

Switzerland elects first female president

Swiss women MPs celebrate Ms Dreifuss's election

The Swiss Parliament has elected the country's first Jewish and first female president - the former Interior Minister Ruth Dreifuss.

BBC Geneva Correspondent Claire Doole says the appointment of Ms Dreifuss is a considerable personal achievement, in a country where women only got the vote in 1971 and which was the last in Western Europe to recognise Jewish rights.

Ms Dreifuss was the first woman elected general secretary of the Swiss trades union movement and only the second to take ministerial office.

Since becoming interior minister in 1993 she has covered a wide brief including environment, education and sport.

Her main legislative achievements have been in the field of women's issues. She is a vigorous defender of abortion, maternity and equal rights.

[ image: Ruth Dreifuss: Breaking down barriers]
Ruth Dreifuss: Breaking down barriers
Last week saw the birth of one of her most ambitious projects - state-paid maternity benefit.

The office of president is held for a year and is a mainly ceremonial position largely involving representing Swiss interests abroad.

However she is known as a keen supporter of Swiss membership of the European Union and the United Nations and her appointment comes at a time of heightened debate about Switzerland's international role - in particular in relation to compensation claims from holocaust victims.

Fear of rise in anti-semitism

A report published in November and commissioned by the Swiss government concluded that 10% of the population hold anti-semitic views and warned that the recent settlement between Swiss banks and representatives of Holocaust victims might encourage anti-Jewish feelings.

However, the report noted that for the first time since World War II, a genuine opposition to anti-semitism is forming.

The report was commissioned earlier this year, partly as a response to international outrage at remarks by the then Swiss President, Jean Pascal Delamurez, which were perceived as anti-semitic.

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