Swiss Look wants to approve a ban on face coverings in a tight Reuters referendum

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Swiss Parliament building in Bern

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ZURICH (Reuters) – In a binding referendum on Sunday, Swiss voters are expected to approve a right-wing extremist proposal to ban face coverings with a relatively small majority, which is seen as a test of attitudes towards Muslims.

Projections for the broadcaster SRF, based on partial results, showed that the measure exceeded 51% to 49% with an error rate of two points.

The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not directly mention Islam and also aims to prevent violent street protesters from wearing masks, but local politicians, media and activists have called it the burqa ban.

Opinion polls showed that the measure, which the government said went too far, could be passed and the ban would become law.

“In Switzerland it is our tradition that you show your face. That is a sign of our fundamental freedoms,” said Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and member of the Swiss People’s Party, before the vote.

He described the face covering as “a symbol of this extreme political Islam, which has become increasingly important in Europe and has no place in Switzerland”.

The proposal harks back to the COVID-19 pandemic, which required all adults to wear masks in many situations to prevent the spread of infections, and received the necessary support in 2017 to trigger a referendum.

The proposal exacerbated Switzerland’s tense relationship with Islam after citizens voted in 2009 to ban the construction of new minarets. Two cantons already have local bans on face covering.

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