The leader of Switzerland's centrist Christian Democrats (CVP) apologised on Friday for calling for a ban on new Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, just days after Swiss voters approved a halt to building minarets.
"I am sorry. I didn't mean it like that," CVP leader Christoph Darbellay told the tabloid Blick daily, adding: "It was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society ... but you can't explain that in 15 seconds."
Darbellay provoked protests when he told local television earlier in the week that Switzerland should not allow the building of separate cemeteries for Jews or Muslims in future.
The Conference of European Rabbis criticised his comments on Thursday and said the Swiss minaret ban will fuel xenophobia and risks making Jews the next target of religious intolerance.
"We don't have a situation of the extreme right in Europe attacking Jews because they are content to attack Muslims," Philip Carmel, the international relations director for the Conference of European Rabbis, told Reuters.
"But the Swiss example is classic: it's not just Muslims who are going to be targeted by the extreme right."
Darbellay has also proposed a ban on the Muslim burqa, or face veil. His comments are seen as a response to the rise of the populist Swiss People's Party (SVP) which campaigned for the minaret ban.
The SVP campaign poster showed the Swiss flag covered in missile-like minarets and the portrait of a woman covered with a black chador and veil.
Swiss voters adopted the ban in a referendum on Sunday, defying the government and parliament which had rejected the right-wing initiative as violating the Swiss constitution, freedom of religion and a cherished tradition of tolerance.
Switzerland, a country of 7.7 million, is home to more than 300,000 Muslims, as well as about 20,000 Jews.