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By Michael Shields

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss people's growing familiarity with foreigners living in their neighbourhoods and a step-by-step path to citizenship helped doom the far right's efforts to exploit anti-Muslim sentiment in a vote easing naturalisation for third-generation immigrants.

The Swiss People's Party (SVP) used posters showing a burqa-clad woman with the slogan "no unchecked naturalisation" to fight the move, which won 60 percent support in a referendum on Sunday even amid the increasingly anti-immigrant mood in many European countries.

Political analysts said the SVP had overreached in its campaign.

"Glarner stumbles over burqa," the mass-circulation Blick tabloid headlined its story, noting SVP campaign activist Andreas Glarner failed to carry the vote even in the town where he is mayor.

"You are welcome. You are needed here," Blick columnist Nico Menzato wrote to the community of young people who remain foreigners even after their grandparents settled here.

Under the old system they faced a lengthy and often expensive naturalisation procedure. Now they will go through the same streamlined process as foreigners who marry Swiss citizens.

Around 25,000 people -- mostly from Italy, Turkey and the Balkans -- are eligible for the new treatment.

The new constitutional amendment simplifies -- but does not make automatic -- naturalisation for well-integrated people no older than 25 who were born in Switzerland, share Swiss cultural values, speak a national language and do not live off state aid.

"I think the opponents' aggressive posters were rather counterproductive," Ada Marra, a Social Democrat MP whose parents moved to Switzerland from Italy and who holds passports from both country, told the Tages-Anzeiger paper.

She was a driving force behind the binding referendum in which voters had the final say under Swiss direct democracy.

Around a quarter of neutral Switzerland's population is foreign, a relatively high rate in comparison with other countries that make it easier for the children and grandchildren of immigrants to be naturalised.

Analysis of voting by the gfs.bern research and polling outfit showed support for the plan was higher in areas with above-average shares of foreigners.

After voters rejected similar proposals in 1983, 1994 and 2004, the swing followed efforts to tone down the proposal to make a clear distinction between second- and third-generation immigrants and ensure naturalisation was not automatic, it said.

Opponents' making political hay with the burqa woman may have appealed above all to the SVP hard core that opposes any opening to abroad, but the tactic also mobilised the "yes" camp, where the conservative centre stayed, gfs.bern said.

(Editing by Toby Chopra)

Reuters