Swiss voters back tougher line on foreigners

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Most Swiss nationals voting in a referendum appear to have approved the easier expulsion of foreigners convicted of serious crimes such as murder, according to preliminary results yesterday.

In the latest sign of growing hostility to immigration, 53 per cent of voters accepted a proposal to automatically deport foreigners convicted of crimes including rape or trafficking in drugs or people.

The computer projections are considered highly accurate, with a margin of error for the initial result of three percentage points. Many Swiss voted earlier by postal ballot.

The initiative was put forward by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), which has played on popular fears about immigration to become the country's biggest political movement.

Campaign posters for the SVP's proposal show a group of white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. They first ran when the SVP was collecting signatures in support of the referendum.

"First the Muslims and minarets, now criminals," said Mohammed, a native of Lebanon who recently received his Swiss passport. "We're not all criminals."

In a referendum last year, 57 per cent of Swiss backed a ban on the construction of new minarets, drawing international condemnation. Currently, decisions to expel foreigners convicted of serious crimes are made on a case-by-case basis.