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Swiss voters back ban on minarets
There are only four minarets in Switzerland
15:48 GMT, Sunday, 29 November 2009 Swiss voters have supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets, official results show.
More than 57% of voters from 26 cantons - or provinces - voted in favour of the ban, Swiss news agency ATS reported.
The proposal had been put forward by the Swiss People's Party, (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which says minarets are a sign of Islamisation.
Opponents say a ban would amount to discrimination and that the ballot has stirred hatred.
The BBC's Imogen Foulkes, in Bern, says the surprise result is very bad news for the Swiss government which had urged voters to reject a ban on minarets, fearing unrest among the Muslim community and damage to Switzerland' s relations with Islamic countries.
Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets.
This will cause major problems because during this campaign in the last two weeks different mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland
Zurich's Association of Muslim Organisations
Minaret vote: Your views
Our correspondent says voters worried about rising immigration, and with it the rise of Islam, have ignored the government's advice.
Islam is the most widespread religion after Christianity in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.
There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.
Supporters of a ban claim that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system - Sharia law - which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.
But others say the referendum campaign incited hatred. On Thursday the Geneva mosque was vandalised for the third time during the campaign, according to local media.
Before the vote, Amnesty International warned that the ban would violate Switzerland' s obligations to freedom of religious expression.
The president of Zurich's Association of Muslim Organisations, Tamir Hadjipolu, told the BBC that if the ban was implemented, Switzerland' s Muslim community would live in fear.
"This will cause major problems because during this campaign in the last two weeks different mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland.
"So with the campaign... the Islamaphobia has increased very intensively. "
Sunday's referendum was held after the People's party collected 100,000 signatures from eligible voters within 18 months calling for a vote.
SVP member of parliament Ulrich Schluer said the referendum campaign had helped integration by encouraging debate. He rejected the charge of discrimination.
"Every Muslim is allowed to come together with other Muslims to have the religion together," he told the BBC.
"But a minaret is a political symbol. It is a symbol for introducing, step-by-step, Sharia rights also in Switzerland, parallel to the Swiss law which is a result of Swiss democracy. And this is the problem. It is nothing against Muslims."
To become law, a majority of canton voting districts must approve the referendum result, as well as a majority of voters.
In recent years many countries in Europe have been debating their relationship with Islam, and how best to integrate their Muslim populations.
France focused on the headscarf, while in Germany there was controversy over plans to build one of Europe's largest mosques in Cologne. http://news. bbc.co.uk/ 1/hi/world/ europe/8385069. stm