, BENGHAZI, Feb 26 – Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi turned up the heat in his country\’s dispute with Switzerland on Thursday, calling for jihad against the country over a ban adopted on the construction of minarets.
"It is against unbelieving and apostate Switzerland that jihad (holy war) ought to be proclaimed by all means," Kadhafi said in a speech in the Mediterranean coastal city of Benghazi to mark the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed on Friday.
"Jihad against Switzerland, against Zionism, against foreign aggression is not terrorism," Kadhafi said.
"Any Muslim around the world who has dealings with Switzerland is an infidel (and is) against Islam, against Mohammed, against God, against the Koran," the leader told a crowd of thousands in a speech broadcast live on television.
"Boycott Switzerland: boycott its goods, boycott its airplanes, its ships, its embassies; boycott this unbelieving, apostate race, aggressor against the houses of Allah," he added.
Contacted by AFP, a spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry said it had "no comment to make on the matter."
In a November 29 referendum, Swiss voters approved by a margin of 57.5 percent a ban on the construction in their country of minarets, the towers that are the signature part of mosques.
Kadhafi spoke at a delicate point in relations between the two countries, which soured in July 2008 when Kadhafi\’s son Hannibal and his wife were arrested and briefly held in Geneva after two domestic workers complained he had mistreated them.
The row escalated when Libya swiftly detained and confiscated the passports of two Swiss businessmen, Rashid Hamdani and Max Goeldi. It deepened again last year when a tentative deal between the two countries fell apart.
Both men were convicted of overstaying their visas and of engaging in illegal business activities. Hamdani\’s conviction was overturned in January, and he has now returned home, while Goeldi surrendered to authorities this week and is now serving a reduced sentence of four months.
Negotiations are underway between the two countries, with Switzerland seeking Goeldi\’s release.
Just Wednesday, Hannibal Kadhafi expressed "his compassion and support for Max Goeldi and his family," the Swiss businessman\’s lawyer said.
The same day, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told reporters negotiations remained tough.
"The situation is difficult; it is delicate," she said, while adding that talks are continuing.
"We are working towards the liberation of Mr Goeldi. We are working intensely, and with solidarity of the European Union that I appreciate publicly," she said.
Adoption of the minaret ban was opposed by the Swiss government, the bulk of Switzerland\’s political parties and the economic establishment and was an unexpected outcome.
The move drew widespread criticism, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling the ban "deeply discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take."
The government of predominantly Christian Switzerland sought to assure the country\’s 400,000 Muslims, who are mainly of Balkan and Turkish origin, that the outcome was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture."
Switzerland has around 200 mosques, with just four minarets among them.