Between 5,000-10,000 people joined a silent, candlelit protest in the town of Moutier on Friday after a vote to switch cantons was on Monday declared invalid.
Organisers say the demonstration on Friday evening is a "call for democracy". Speakers addressing the crowd at the town hall called for people to continue fighting Monday's decision, but also called for calm.
This comes as a top district official on Monday reversed a narrow June 2017 people’s vote for Moutier to leave German-speaking canton Bern and join French-speaking canton Jura. The official ruled that six out of seven legal complaints over misleading propaganda and organisational flaws were justified.
The pro-Jura separatist movement said the decision had been taken for “political reasons” and vowed to fight against the vote reversal. It is likely that Monday’s decision by the Bern authorities will be appealed. Some people are also suggesting a fresh vote to unblock the potentially explosive situation.
On June 18, 2017, voters in Moutier decided in favour of Jura by 137 votes. A total of 4,000 citizens took part in the ballot with an unusually high turnout of 88%. But the vote aroused suspicions that some people had registered themselves as eligible voters in Moutier without actually residing there. These suspicions were raised with the federal authorities, leading to an investigation.
The controversy is the latest twist in a long-running territorial dispute in Switzerland. French-speaking Jura became the 26th Swiss canton in 1979 when a separatist movement won a vote to secede from German-speaking canton Bern. Since then, the question has been raised in some towns and villages along the border about which canton they would like to be part of.