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Occupy Liechtenstein? Popular Showdown With Monarchy In Europe's Richest Enclave

The Liechtenstein royal family has threatened to abandon the country if the public tries to limit their extensive range of powers. But leaving would force them to finally pay taxes on their billions.

Vaduz Castle, home to the Prince of Liechtenstein (Michael Gredenberg)
Vaduz Castle, home to the Prince of Liechtenstein (Michael Gredenberg)


Locals in the wealthy alpine enclave of Liechtenstein are as famously attached to their monarchy as they are to their mountains. But one of these looming fixtures now risks suddenly disappearing – and it's certainly not the Alps.

The 62-square-mile principality is currently embroiled in a heated debate over the powers of the royal family which, according to the Constitution, has long held the right to veto the verdict of any public consultation. A popular movement to limit royal authority has prompted threats by Crown Prince Alois, who rules alongside parliament in the constitutional monarchy, to actually pack up his crown and leave Liechtenstein for good.

The question first arose last September when Alois made it very clear during a public referendum on the legalization of abortion that – regardless of the outcome – he would not authorize abortions to be carried out in his country. Although the public ended up voting against legalized abortion, Alois's earlier vow to ignore the will of his people was not forgotten.

A petition drive was recently launched dubbed "Yes for your voice to count," calling for the results of public referendums to be protected from the monarchy's veto. Alois explained the family's stance during a speech at the opening of Parliament. "The royal family is only prepared to continue its political responsibilities if they have the necessary tools to do so. Otherwise, we will withdraw from political life completely."

Sigvard Wohlwend, spokesperson for the petition, says it's hard to imagine the family leaving - for many reasons, including financial ones. With an estimated fortune of nearly $5.5 billion, the royal family is exempt from taxes in Liechtenstein which means that leaving the country would come with a serious financial price, not to mention the humiliation of losing their status of European heads of state.

The campaigners now have just six weeks to collect the 1,500 signatures necessary to force a referendum on the issue. It's worth noting that the public vote would not threaten the range of other privileges the royal family enjoys, including the right to block criminal investigations, to veto any law voted by parliament, to dissolve the parliament itself and even to dismiss the government and reign by decree. Perhaps the royal family fears that this initial limitation would put their privileges on a slippery slope - and as mountain people, they know where that could lead.

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Read the original article in full in French.

Photo - Michael Gredenberg

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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