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Government reviews moves to defeat anti-foreigner initiative

Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, condemned his party's decision to support quotas for foreigners. Keystone / Walter Bieri

The government will on Wednesday discuss a forthcoming referendum on introducing quotas for foreigners, in the wake of a controversial vote by delegates of the right-wing Swiss People's Party to support the initiative.

The defence minister, Adolf Ogi – who is the sole representative of the People’s Party in cabinet – said the government would analyse the current situation – one month before voters cast their ballots on the initiative to limit the number of foreigners in Switzerland to 18 per cent of the population.

The government, big business and the executives of all major parties have urged voters to reject the initiative. But latest opinion polls indicate a slim majority is likely to vote against it.

Leaders of the People’s Party, including Ogi, have condemned the People’s Party delegates’ decision – made in Geneva on Saturday – to ignore the recommendation of their executive and support the initiative.

Ogi said in Tuesday’s “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper that the Geneva decision would lead to a period of reflection within the party, during which members would weigh up the consequences of a “yes” vote on the jobs market, tourism and Switzerland’s image.

He also expressed confidence that the individual cantonal parties would vote against the initiative.

The People’s Party of canton Berne, which is Ogi’s home canton, voted overwhelmingly to reject the initiative in a ballot late on Tuesday. Other cantonal parties, including Zurich, have also come out against it.

The party’s leading figure, Christoph Blocher, said he believed immigration quotas were the wrong way to tackle the issue of the number of foreigners in Switzerland.

Blocher said the main problem of illegal immigration and abuse of asylum laws would not be solved by immigration quotas. He repeated he would vote against the initiative.

Ogi’s comments come just days after two other government heavyweights – the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, and the justice minister, Ruth Metzler – lent their weight to the campaign against the initiative, arguing that it would harm Switzerland’s growing economy and could adversely affect relations with the European Union.

But the initiative leading backer, Philipp Müller, rejects allegations that the introduction of the 18 per cent quota would deprive the economy of much-needed labour. He says it would still allow the state to issue 72,000 new work permits a year.

Müller also denies that adoption of the quota would threaten Switzerland’s bilateral accords with the EU.

The foreign population of Switzerland currently stands at over 19 per cent.

swissinfo with agencies

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