Article published on the 2009-11-29 Latest update 2009-11-29 15:21 TU
Over 57 percent of Swiss voters on Sunday approved a blanket ban on the construction of Muslim minarets, according to official results posted by Swiss news agency ATS.
A final tally of 26 cantons indicates that 57.5 per cent of the population have voted in favour of the ban on minarets - the turrets or towers attached on mosques from where Muslims are called to prayer. Only four cantons rejected the proposal.
The country’s biggest political party, the Swiss People's Party (SVP), had forced the referendum under Swiss regulations on the issue after collecting 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters.
The right wing SVP claims that minarets attached to mosques from where followers are called to prayer symbolise a "political-religious claim to power".
The government opposed the ban, warning that it would harm the image of Switzerland, and President Hans-Rudolf Merz even put out a video broadcast to the nation, saying: "Muslims should be able to practice their religion and have access to minarets in Switzerland too. But the call of the muezzin will not sound here."
There are an estimated 400,000 Muslims in a country of 7.5 million people, making Islam the second largest religion behind Christianity.
The SVP campaign against minarets has caused uproar with one poster depicting a burqa-clad woman against a background of a Swiss flag upon which several minarets resembling missiles are erected.
Switzerland’s Commission Against Racism said the campaign stirred up hatred while religious groups, including Christians and Jews, have also come out in a rare show of unity against theproposal.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, had sounded a confident prior to the vote, saying he was sure the Swiss would reject the ban.
"We are sure that the people of Switzerland will reach the best consensus and will take the best decision. This is an old democratic society," he said.
Four minarets have been built in Switzerland and the construction of a fifth was in the planning.