Swiss voters back ban on minarets in referendum

Sun Nov 29, 2009 6:46pm EST
 
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland voted to ban the construction of new minarets on Sunday, a surprise result certain to embarrass the neutral government and which the justice minister said could affect Swiss exports and tourism.

The Swiss news agency ATS and other media said about 57.5 percent of voters and all but four of the 26 cantons approved the proposal in the nationwide referendum, which was backed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).

The government and parliament had rejected the initiative as violating the Swiss constitution, freedom of religion and the country's cherished tradition of tolerance. The government had said a ban could "serve the interests of extremist circles".

But the government said it would respect the people's decision and building new minarets would no longer be allowed.

"Muslims in Switzerland are able to practice their religion alone or in community with others and live according to their beliefs just as before," it said in a statement.

German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung called the result a "disaster", noting Switzerland was the only country in Europe to have such a building ban and that it violated the Swiss constitution and the European Human Rights convention.

"It won't take long before those affected will take this to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where an embarrassing condemnation looms," the paper said in an editorial to appear on Monday.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the outcome of the vote reflected a fear of Islamic fundamentalism, but the ban was "not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies".   Continued...

 
<p>File picture shows a traffic road sign next to the minaret of the mosque of Winterthur October 9, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann</p>