Swiss minaret ban draws global dismay

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Switzerland confronted an international backlash yesterday over a shock vote to ban new minarets and struggled to reassure stunned Muslims at home that they were not regarded as outcasts.

The Vatican joined Muslim leaders in expressing dismay after a referendum on Sunday voted for a constitutional ban on the construction of towers attached to mosques from where the faithful are traditionally called to prayer. Some 57.5 percent of those who cast ballots supported the measure amid a high turnout by Swiss standards of 53 percent.

The result flew in the face of opinion polls that had predicted a ‘no’ vote, and caught out government ministers who had opposed the ban alongside the bulk of Switzerland’s political and religious establishment.

The government rushed to assure the country’s 400,000 Muslims, mainly from the Balkans and Turkey, that the outcome was not a rejection of the Muslim religion or culture.

However, the result was condemned in the world’s most populous Muslim nations and elsewhere in Europe as a display of intolerance. Swiss newspapers also warned that the referendum had inflicted “spectacular damage” to the country’s international standing.