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Business leaders warn against minaret ban

Bührer says the anti-minaret initiative is damaging for Switzerland

(Keystone)

The Swiss Business Federation (economiesuisse) has warned against a proposed ban on minarets ahead of a nationwide vote on the issue on November 29.

The organisation said the initiative by members of rightwing parties could damage the competitive edge of the Swiss economy and dent the country's tolerant and open-minded reputation.

"The initiative goes against liberal thinking; it is not Swiss and damages our reputation abroad," federation president Gerold Bührer told a news conference on Monday.

He said Swiss firms and products could be threatened by a boycott if the initiative won a majority at the polls.

Bührer said Muslim countries had a considerable economic potential for Switzerland's export sector, notably its engineering firms, as well as its banking and its tourism industries.

Exports to Muslim countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia amount to about SFr15 billion ($14.7 billion) and also affect the pharmaceutical companies, the food and the watchmaking industries, according to economiesuissse.

"We depend on a workforce which has different cultural backgrounds," said Rudolf Stämpfli, president of the Swiss Employers' Association.

He said the vote was a referendum on how the Swiss treat members of other religions and that Switzerland would be wise to create a friendly environment for people who come to work here.

The federation said it had granted "limited financial support" for a publicity campaign against the initiative, but it refused to give details.

But efforts to combat another proposal – an initiative by pacifists to ban the export of weapons to come to a vote on the same day – is receiving more funds from the federation, according to Bührer.

In a related development, a committee of young rightwing politicians has called for a ban on minarets.

It said it was necessary to put a halt to what it described as the growing influence of Islam on Swiss schools and to the potential threat to fundamental Swiss values.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch


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