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Banning the burka Swiss likely to vote on facial covering ban

A flyer for the campaign to ban facial coverings - the move has caused much debate in Switzerland

(Keystone)

Voters look set to have the final say on a proposal for a nationwide burka ban in public places in Switzerland.

A rightwing committee handed in 106,600 signatures for a people’s initiative on the issue to the Federal Chancellery on Friday.

Campaigners had been struggling to collect the necessary signatures over the past 18 months.

“Switzerland is committed to the tradition of freedom. People who are free, women and men, look at each other when they speak to each other,” said the committee in a statementexternal link.

Even the European Court of Human Rights considers the forced or voluntary covering of the face in public as being in conflict with community life in a free society, it added. This is why a ban is proportionate, and does not violate freedom of religion or opinion. It is not discriminatory, the committee insisted.

The proposal demands a ban on any face covering - also in the case of acts of crime and vandalism.  It only allows for exceptions for reasons of health and climate or for traditional folklore.

The federal authorities will now validate the signatures before the government and parliament discuss it. A date for a nationwide vote still has to be set.

Opponents have accused supporters of a nationwide burka ban of undermining basic rights and attacking “liberal values enshrined in the Swiss constitution”.

Campaigners in favour of a burka ban have not ruled out withdrawing their initiative if parliament agrees on counter-proposal.

Regional ban

Three years ago, Ticino became the first of Switzerland’s 26 cantons to approve a burka ban.

Several countries in the European Union, including France, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well the Catalonia region of Spain, have outlawed the wearing of face covering in public.

The discussion in Switzerland promises to be heated as it comes in the wake of a nationwide ballot in 2009 approving a ban on the construction of new minarets at mosques which attracted worldwide media attention.

swissinfo.ch and agencies/ug/ilj

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