Swiss voters back minaret ban: report

Sun Nov 29, 2009 8:10am EST
 

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Swiss voters have approved a right-wing-backed proposal to ban construction of new minarets, initial projections showed on Sunday, a surprise result that could damage Switzerland's economic ties with Muslim states.

If confirmed, the result would be a huge embarrassment for the neutral Swiss government, which had warned that amending the constitution to ban construction of minarets could serve could "serve the interests of extremist circles."

"The initiative would appear to be accepted, there is a positive trend. It's a huge surprise," French-language Swiss television said, 30 minutes after polls closed at midday.

A majority of voters as well as cantons appeared to have approved the initiative, it said, citing exit polls carried out by the Berne-based Institute Gfs.

Both the Swiss government and parliament had rejected the initiative as violating the Swiss constitution, freedom of religion and the nation's cherished tradition of tolerance. The United Nations human rights watchdog had also voiced concerns.

A group of politicians from the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), the country's biggest party, and Federal Democratic Union gathered enough signatures to force the vote on the initiative which opposes the "Islamisation of Switzerland."

Its campaign poster showed the Swiss flag covered in missile-like minarets and the portrait of a woman covered with a black chador and veil associated with strict Islam.

"We just want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland, I mean political Islam. People may practice their religion, that is no problem," Walter Wobmann, who is president of a committee of initiative backers, told Reuters on Sunday.   Continued...

 
<p>The minaret of the mosque of the Islamic Cultural Foundation is pictured at Grand-Saconnex in Geneva November 19, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse</p>