Updated: November 29, 2009 14:23 IST

Swiss vote on anti-Islam move to ban new minarets

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FIn this Ocober. 26 file photo pedestrians walk in Zurich, Switzerland, below posters of a conservative initiative promoting a
FIn this Ocober. 26 file photo pedestrians walk in Zurich, Switzerland, below posters of a conservative initiative promoting a "Yes" to ban the erection of minarets in Switzerland. Photo: AP.

Swiss voters are deciding in a referendum on Sunday whether to accept a ban on the construction of minarets, which right-wing parties regard as symbols of militant Islam.

The move - led by the Swiss People’s Party, which has campaigned in previous years against immigrants -has stirred fears of boycotts and violent reactions from Muslim countries.

Polls indicate growing support for the proposal, but doubt remains about whether it will pass. The seven-member Cabinet that heads the Swiss government has spoken out strongly against the initiative.

Muslims have been keeping a low profile so far. Still, the Geneva Mosque was vandalized on Thursday when someone threw a pot of pink paint at the entrance.

Earlier this month, a vehicle with a loudspeaker drove through the area imitating a muezzin’s call to prayer, and vandals damaged a mosaic when they threw cobble stones at the building.

Business leaders say a ban on minarets, the distinctive spires attached to mosques, would be disastrous for the Swiss economy because it could offend wealthy Muslims who bank in Switzerland, buy the country’s luxury goods and visit its resorts.

The vote taps into the anxieties about Muslims that have been rippling through Europe in recent years, ranging from French fears of women in body veils to Dutch alarm over the murder by a Muslim fanatic of a filmmaker who made a documentary that criticized Islam.

Local officials and rights defenders have objected to the campaign posters, which show minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag next to a fully veiled woman.

Minarets are typically built next to mosques for religious leaders to call the faithful to prayer, but they are not used for that in Switzerland. The four minarets already attached to mosques in the country will remain even if the referendum passes.

Muslims make up about 6 percent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million population, many of them refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Fewer than 13 percent practice their religion, the government says.

A survey by the respected polling institute gfs.bern last week indicated that 53 percent of voters oppose the initiative, although support for it has grown by 3 percentage points to 37 percent since last month. Typically in Switzerland the margins on such votes narrow as balloting nears. Ten percent of the 1,213 people polled were undecided. The survey had an error margin of 2.9 percent.

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