In a natiowide vote, the Swiss people on Sunday rejected a proposal to reduce the number of foreign residents to 18 per cent of the population. The "no" vote has been welcomed by the government and big business.This content was published on September 24, 2000 - 19:50
The move to curb the number of foreigners was voted down by 63 per cent, with 36 per cent in favour.
The justice minister, Ruth Metzler - speaking for the government - welcomed the result, and said it was a signal to the international community that Switzerland was willing to adhere to its commitments.
Metzler told a news conference in Berne the government took the 37 per cent "yes" vote seriously. But she said the government would continue with its current policies towards foreigners.
The results again showed differences in voting patterns in German- and French-speaking cantons. In several Swiss-German cantons the "yes" vote was over 40 per cent; in the central canton of Schwyz it was as high as 48 per cent.
People living in the French-speaking part of the country rejected the measure by a larger majority. In Neuchatel and Geneva, for example, 75 and 76 per cent came out against it.
Leading party politicians and business figures welcomed the outcome. Both the Radical Party and Christian Democratic Party presidents, Franz Steinegger and Adalbert Durrer, said reason had prevailed over emotion.
The head of the main employers' organisation, Peter Hasler, echoed the sentiment. He said the Swiss people had not wanted to jeopardise the country's humanitarian tradition or Switzerland's image abroad.
The president of the right-wing People's Party, Ueli Maurer, also welcomed the result but said his party would continue to fight against immigration abuses.
The local Radical Party politician from Aargau, Philipp Müller - who launched the initiative - told German-language Swiss radio the size of the "yes" vote would force the government to re-think its policies towards foreigners.
Opinion polls before Sunday's vote indicated the move would be comprehensively defeated.
The government, big business and the main political parties came out against the measure - the only exception being the People's Party, which was divided over the issue.
The initiative sought to reduce the number of foreigners to 18 per cent from 19.3 per cent. There are currently 1.3 million foreigners resident in Switzerland.
The proposal aroused considerable controversy. Opponents said it would harm the Swiss economy, damage Switzerland's image abroad, and undermine the bilateral accords that Switzerland has signed with the European Union.
Supporters of the initiative were seeking to stem the flow of foreigners - or particular categories of foreigners, prevent the over-population of Switzerland and cut back on the number of poorly qualified workers.
Switzerland has proportionally the largest foreign population of any European country. But at the same time, Switzerland has some of the toughest naturalisation procedures.
Six similar moves to curb the level of foreigners have been launched since 1970 but all have failed at the ballot box.
swissinfo with agencies
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