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Swiss fearful, angry over U.S. Holocaust sanction threats

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After 3 1/2 years of international arm-twisting in the debate over assets owed to Holocaust victims, the Swiss are angry, worried and weary about new sanction threats from the United States.

From the diplomatic center of Geneva to the financial capital of Zurich, many Swiss, including some Jews, are crying foul."It's shameless that they are trying to declare economic war on Switzerland, which bears no responsibility for the Holocaust," said Sigi Feigel, president-emeritus of the Jewish Community in Zurich.

In 1996, Switzerland's then-president, Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, was accused of anti-Semitism after he labeled as "blackmail" Jewish demands for a $250 million Holocaust compensation fund. Now that term is being used by a wide spectrum of the Swiss public.

At a July 1 meeting in New York, American city and state finance officials moved toward imposing sanctions on Switzerland's two largest commercial banks and later on the whole country. The officials supported U.S.-based Jewish groups that rejected a $600 million offer from the banks to settle claims to dormant Holocaust-era accounts.

Swiss people interviewed by The Associated Press said it was right for Switzerland to pay back assets of Holocaust victims as well as help needy survivors of Nazi atrocities.

But they said their small neutral country, which was surrounded by the armies of Nazi Germany and its allies during World War II, today is being unfairly tied to Nazi atrocities.

"Now we are the victim," said Annette Keller, 57, a program manager for an environmental organization.

She said the wry humor of a recent newspaper cartoon sums up her anxieties about the dispute. It pictured a Switzerland reduced to one mountain, one lake and one farmer milking a cow, but ridiculed the man for taking pleasure in at least protecting his own nest egg - a few Swiss francs in a sock.

Patrick Brutsch, a 36-year-old security expert, said pressures by foreigners are getting "more threatening."

A letter writer to the newspaper Le Temps in Geneva said the United States is ignoring its own period of neutrality during the first two years of World War II.

"If the Americans really wanted to stop the Nazis, they could have joined the Allies in 1939," wrote Mike Sale of La Chaux-de-Fonds. "But they didn't do it. They even continued to invest in Nazi Germany until 1941."