Switzerland votes to end centuries of isolation and join United Nations

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Switzerland voted to become a full member of the United Nations yesterday, ending a centuries-old aloofness to international organisations.

The "yes" camp won 54.6 per cent of the popular vote and 12 of the 23 full cantons, a double majority required under the Swiss system of direct democracy, according to DRS, the state broadcaster. Turn-out in the referendum was relatively high at 58 per cent.

The way is now open for Switzerland to become a full member of the UN as early as today, leaving the Vatican as the only state outside the international body.

Joseph Deiss, the Foreign Minister, said: "If there is a winner in this election, then it is our country."

The seven-member governing Cabinet, which had campaigned hard for approval, said: "Everyone stands to gain from this. Switzerland will now be better able to safeguard its interests and assume its responsibilities in the world."

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, who had urged Swiss voters to approve membership, issued a statement saying he "warmly welcomes this expression of faith and commitment to the work and ideals" of the UN.

Although the host nation for many UN organisations and the organisation's European headquarters, Switzerland has prized its autonomy and never joined as a full member.

The last time the Swiss voted on joining the UN was in 1986, when the result went 3-1 against. Since then, however, much has changed. Switzerland is now surrounded by countries that not only belong to the European Union, but share one currency.

It has suffered a series of blows to its national morale, with the Gotthard tunnel fire and the integrity of its banking called into question.

And with EU and Nato expansion likely to be endorsed in the next two years, Switzerland will look even more isolated in a world made up of large blocs.

The campaign was hard-fought, with the government arguing for a "yes" vote, and the "no" campaign supported by the far-right Swiss People's Party and conservatives concentrated in German-speaking cantons.

"Yes" supporters said Switz-erland's isolationism was anachronistic and against its interests. Their opponents said Switzerland would be giving up its autonomy and subjugating itself to the "five big powers", the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Leading the opposition was Christoph Blocher, a billionaire industrialist and leader of the Swiss People's Party. "It will unfortunately lead to a weakening of Switzerland which I really regret," he said after the results. "It will have financial consequences for citizens, the freedoms of the Swiss will be limited and neutrality will be massively weakened. Unfortunately, it will have economic consequences as well because foreign confidence in Switzerland will fall because one of the main Swiss pillars – its independence – is at least marred."