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Crowd shows solidarity ‘for an open Switzerland’

Protestors show solidarity against a rightwing initiative on immigration Keystone

More than 10,000 people have gathered outside the Swiss parliament in Bern in support of immigrants’ rights, the free movement of people and good relations with the European Union.

Almost 60 parties and organisations, including the Greens, the Social Democrats, unions and foreigner associations, had called for people to attend. They warned that following the recent vote to limit immigration, the rights of the more than 1.8 million foreigners in Switzerland could seriously deteriorate.

“At the same time, [foreigners] have significantly contributed to our shared prosperity, quality of life and cultural diversity,” said the organisers, estimating that around 12,000 people had turned up.

One banner read “Switzerland without foreigners is like Swiss chocolate without cacao”.

On February 9, 50.3% of voters backed an initiative – put forward by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party – to reintroduce immigration quotas. The right to family reunification will also be affected.

The demonstrators said the reintroduction of “seasonal status” was to be opposed by all available means. This practice of handing out of short-term work permits to foreign workers was lifted for non-EU citizens in 1991 and for EU citizens in 2002, when the free movement of people accord came into force.

Also on March 1, Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann met representatives of the Swiss business community, who were eager for a rapid implementation of the immigration initiative and the preservation of the bilateral accords with the EU.

They called for solutions to be unbureaucratic and balanced.

The Swiss cabinet had previously called on voters to reject the initiative.

EU relations

Organisers also wanted to see a “good and structured relationship” with Brussels, so that Swiss workers are not discriminated against in the EU.

As a result of the vote, Switzerland will have to renegotiate its bilateral accord with the EU on the free movement of people within three years or revoke it.

The Swiss government has confirmed that, as a consequence, it cannot sign an already agreed deal to grant Croatian job seekers access to Switzerland. Croatia is an EU member state.

Brussels promptly responded by halting talks to include Switzerland in multi-billion euro research and education schemes.

On Saturday, demonstrators in parliament square also called for strong opposition against the upcoming Ecopop Initiative, which aims to protect the environment and natural resources by limiting immigration to 0.2% of annual population growth.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR