ZURICH (Reuters) - A majority of Swiss voted to back the automatic expulsion of foreigners convicted of serious crimes on Sunday, in the latest sign of growing hostility to immigration in the country.
Thousands of opponents of the referendum result marched through Zurich and smashed shop windows, a Reuters witness said. In the capital Berne, there were about 500 protesters, some of whom threw snowballs and bottles at police in front of parliament, officials said.
Fifty-three percent of voters backed a proposal to automatically deport foreigners convicted of crimes including murder, rape or trafficking in drugs or people, according to results carried by Swiss television.
“I don’t regard this as a very good sign for our country,” said Christian Levrat, head of the centre-left Social Democrats who opposed the proposal.
Official figures show foreigners make up more than a fifth of Switzerland’s population of 7.7 million.
In the same referendum, 58.5 percent of voters rejected a proposal that would have imposed a minimum cantonal (state) tax on the very rich.
Both results were confirmed in government statements.
The expulsion initiative was put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which has mined increasing fear about immigration in recent years to become the country’s biggest political movement.
Last year the Swiss endorsed a ban on construction of new minarets, drawing international condemnation.
“We want those (foreigners) who live in Switzerland to stick to the conventions and rules of the game,” said SVP leader Toni Brunner. He said the vote was a resounding “No” to abuses resulting from immigration.
Critics have said the SVP’s proposal could contravene international anti-discrimination treaties and the free movement of peoples under European Union law. Switzerland is outside the EU, but has accepted the bloc’s code allowing EU citizens to take up residence without special permission.
Under current law, decisions to expel foreigners convicted of serious crimes are made on a case-by-case basis.
A committee would draw up a draft law that minimised any conflict with Switzerland’s international obligations, the government said. The law would then be voted on by parliament.
Turnout on Sunday was 53 percent, above the usual 40 percent in Swiss referendums, Swiss television said.
Writing by Catherine Bosley; editing by Andrew Dobbie