Swiss voters back minaret construction ban

Switzerland voted to ban the construction of new minarets today, in 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".

The government said it would respect the people's decision and construction of new minarets would no longer be permitted.

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

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".

"I am assuming our trade relations with other countries will become more difficult," she told a news conference in Berne.

"We'll see the consequences in the export sector and possibly in the area of tourism. In recent years we've seen particular growth (in tourism) from Gulf states, it helped us a lot, and how that develops we'll have to see," she added.

The Alpine country of nearly 7 million is home to more than 300,000 Muslims, mainly from Bosnia, Kosovo and Turkey.

A group of politicians from the SVP, the country's biggest party, and the conservative Federal Democratic Union gathered enough signatures to force the referendum on the initiative.

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.

Four mosques of Switzerland's estimated 130 to 160 Muslim cultural and prayer centres, have minarets. The call to prayer is banned in the country.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said she was shocked and deeply regretted the outcome, which had to be seen in the context of globalisation and economic crises.

"Fears and anxieties were played on," she told reporters.

Swiss ambassadors in Muslim countries would work to explain that the vote was a result of Switzerland's democracy and its foreign policy of promoting dialogue would not change, she said.

Muslim community groups in Switzerland voiced dismay.

"The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets but the symbol sent by this vote. Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community", said Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland.

In Cairo, the co-chairmen of the "C1 World Dialogue" that aims to promote understanding between the Western world and Islam, said more work was needed to ensure diverse communities managed to integrate and live in peace side by side.

"This outcome should serve to alert us to the reality of unaddressed fears and unspoken anxieties in Europe which the normal political processes have overlooked or insufficiently addressed," the Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa and the Bishop of London Richard Chartres said in a joint statement.

Walter Wobmann, president of the initiative committee, voiced glee in a victory speech near Berne. "We're enormously happy. It is a victory for this people, this Switzerland, this freedom and those who want a democratic society."

Earlier, he told Reuters: "We just want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland, I mean political Islam. People may practice their religion, that is no problem."

The result is likely to strengthen the hand of the SVP, which has been accused of racism for its anti-immigration campaigns, including a poster showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'