Early counting shows the voters of Bern have firmly rejected plans to fund the city's 2010 Winter Olympics bid - killing off the city's candidature.
Bid organisers conceded that the refusal by Bernese voters to approve an SFr 22.5 million ($15 million) bid package would force the city to pull out of the Olympic race.
Several hours after the close of polling booths, early counting shows a strong no vote of around 76 to 77 per cent.
Bern - which is bidding for the Winter Games for the fourth time since 1969 - has been shortlisted as one of four possible 2010 host cities, along with Vancouver (Canada), Salzburg (Austria) and South Korea's Pyeongchang.
Bern 2010 "is dead"
Leading pro-Olympic campaigner Rolf Portmann said the result meant "the idea of Bern 2010 is dead".
Portmann expressed surprise at the strength of the no vote, and said he hoped those who had opposed Bern's Olympic bid now helped develop alternative strategies for the city's future.
The Bernese were asked to decide on two issues - whether to support funding worth SFr15 million for a new ice rink in Bern and other sporting facilities in the canton, along with whether to approve credit worth SFr7.5 million for Bern 2010, the company set up to organise and promote the bid.
Martin Hodler, the head of the Bern bid, said before the vote that public support was crucial to the success of the city's candidature.
The International Olympic Committee insists that bids must come with financial backing from the public.
Risk of debt
Supporters argued that a new ice stadium at Allmend in Bern was needed irrespective of the outcome of the bid, and that taxpayers would not have to foot the bill for it.
But opponents criticised the linking of the proposed new stadium with Bern's Olympic bid. They were also concerned that SFr7.5 million would have to be set aside from cantonal finances to buy shares in Bern 2010.
Critics worried that the sum would not be enough and that the public would consequently be saddled with a huge tax bill to combat spiralling debts.
Those in favour of the move argued that the sum would only be needed if Bern wins the right to host the Games, and promised that if the Winter Olympics made a profit, the money would be repaid in its entirety.
Bern 2010 and its supporters appear to have failed to convince sceptical voters, despite a well-funded campaign.
The Bernese population is already wary of funding such large projects after the repeated calls for extra funding for the country's troubled national exhibition, Expo.02.
Bern's cantonal government - one of Switzerland's poorest - also recently added to the controversy by announcing plans to minimise the canton's SFr11 billion debt.
In a bid to save SFr1 billion between 2003 and 2006, it intends to shed 570 jobs among civil servants, teaching staff and employees of subsidised companies in the canton.
Bern's bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games has been dogged by controversy from the outset.
Critics claimed that Bern has neither the money nor the facilities for such an endeavour and that the city could not compete with the current favourites, Vancouver and Salzburg.
But the bid's supporters argued that the Games would boost Bern's importance as a centre for winter sports, as well as put the city and Switzerland firmly in the international spotlight.
Organisers estimated profits of between SFr1.4 and SFr2.6 billion from the event, which would create between 550 and 1000 jobs.
After announcing Bern's shortlisting, the IOC warned that the city's bid did "not best respond to the needs of the athletes and could create significant organisational difficulties."
A second factor is that both upcoming Olympics will be staged in Europe - the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece and the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Up to 77 per cent of canton Bern voters reject Olympic bid financing plan.
Switzerland hosted the first winter Olympic Games in 1948.
This is Bern's fourth bid since 1969.
Sion was defeated by Turin to host the 2006 Games.
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