Swiss hardline nationalists are forcing a popular vote on whether to ban the construction of mosque minarets — a proposal that, if approved, could clash with Switzerland's constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion.
Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to ban building minarets in the country, the government said on Tuesday.
A group of politicians from the Swiss People's Party (SVP) and Federal Democratic Union gathered more than 100,000 signatures to support the banning attempt.
There are currently only two minarets in the country, attached to mosques in Zurich and Geneva.
"The Federal Chancellery checks of the signature list showed that of the total 114,137 signatures turned in, 113,540 are valid," the government said in a statement.
The proposal has to be discussed by parliament before being put to a popular vote and the process could take several years.
Slovenia's Constitutional Court in 2004 banned a move to hold a referendum on the building of a mosque.
Switzerland's unique system of grass roots democracy allows political hard-liners to take the issue further than in other European countries, where constitutional courts or governments have blocked moves against mosques and minarets. Any Swiss citizen who collects 100,000 signatures within 18 months can put a popular initiative to a nationwide vote.
It's not the first time the People's Party has ignited a provocative campaign. The SVP previously ran an anti-immigration campaign featuring three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag. The campaign was condemned as racist by rights groups and the United Nations.
Swiss voters recently rejected another SVP proposal which would have made it more difficult for foreigners to secure citizenship, a campaign which included posters of yellow and black hands grabbing at Swiss passports.
Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has said a minaret ban would threaten security, and the country's seven-member ruling council said this month it would "naturally be recommending that parliament and the electorate vote against the initiative".
The SVP's populist programme focuses on tackling crime, forcing cuts in public spending and keeping Switzerland out of the European Union.
It has proven highly popular with Swiss voters in recent years and helped the party secure around 29 percent of the vote in last year's national election.
Last Mod: 29 Temmuz 2008, 18:01