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Swiss Voters Defeat Initiative to Curb Foreign Population

September 25, 2000|From Reuters

ZURICH, Switzerland — In a nationwide referendum, Swiss voters Sunday decisively rejected a plan to reduce the number of foreigners in their country to 18% of the population.

Results after nearly all the ballots were counted showed that 63.7% of voters opposed the plan. Turnout was 43.4%.

A majority of voters rejected the proposal in each of the 26 Swiss cantons, or states. Foreigners make up about 19.3% of the population.

The few areas with a bigger proportion of "yes" votes were those with a large number of residents from the former Yugoslav federation, Swiss radio said.

Swiss real estate developer Philipp Mueller, who drafted the initiative, denied that his plan was racist and argued that Switzerland's immigration policy relative to its population is much more liberal than that of the United States.

The proportion of foreigners in Switzerland is high even by European standards, and compares with 1 in 9 in Sweden and Austria.

There are about 1.4 million foreigners in the country, out of a population of 7.2 million.

Those in favor of the initiative cited worries about schools being overrun by foreign children. But Swiss media over the weekend devoted more attention to plans calling for English to be the first foreign language taught in Swiss primary schools instead of the German, French or Italian spoken in various regions of the country.

Swiss citizens voting against the initiative said they feared passage would have isolated them as a nation of xenophobes.

The Swiss Cabinet urged voters to reject the plan, saying that in the last 30 years, five similar initiatives had been turned down. A voter pamphlet said "that the 'foreigner question' cannot be solved with rigid limitations."

Justice Minister Ruth Metzler said the result was a sign that the Bern government should continue with its policy of integrating foreigners, alongside plans for a new immigration law being discussed.

Foes included people fearful that the plan would lend support to far-right fringe groups at a time when concern is mounting about the rising number of neo-Nazis among Swiss youth.

Also on the national level, voters rejected three separate initiatives aimed at using taxes and subsidies to promote energy alternatives to oil and gas, including solar energy.

In addition, the Swiss defeated a measure calling for more freedom in how a referendum is presented to voters.

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