UPDATED: Exit polls indicate Swiss voters set to back ban on facial coverings

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Swiss voters were projected to approve by a slim majority a far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in a binding referendum on Sunday viewed as a test of attitudes toward Muslims.

Projections for broadcaster SRF, based on partial results, showed the measure passing 51% to 49%, with a two-point margin for error.

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

People from anti-racist, feminist and ecologist associations and parties demonstrate against the ‘anti-burqa’ initiative on the Plaine de Plainpalais in Geneva, Switzerland. EPA-EFE/JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT

Opinion polls had suggested that the measure, which the government has said went too far, could pass and the ban would become law.

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

He called facial covering “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland”.

The proposal predates the COVID-19 pandemic – which has required all adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection – and gathered the necessary support in 2017 to trigger a referendum.

The proposal compounded Switzerland’s tense relationship with Islam after citizens voted in 2009 to ban building any new minarets. Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.

A poster of the initiative ‘Yes to the burqa-ban’ is seen in Lausanne, Switzerland. EPA-EFE/LAURENT GILLIERON

Main Photo: A poster of the initiative ‘Yes to the burqa-ban’ is seen in Oberdorf, in the canton of Nidwalden, Switzerland. EPA-EFE/URS FLUEELER

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