Swiss divided over tougher rules for foreigners

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Switzerland was divided Sunday over a far-right push to automatically expel foreign residents convicted of certain crimes, with partial results in a referendum indicating a close race.

More than an hour after polls closed at mid-day, research institute gfs.bern said it was unable to forecast the likely result of the vote, while adding that it was clear that another referendum on whether the country should introduce a minimum tax rate across the board was set to be rejected.

Partial results indicate that French-speaking Switzerland has rejected the far-right initiative on expelling foreign criminals, while the country's German-speaking majority have accepted it.

For an initiative to pass into law, a double majority of cantons and overall population are required.

A year after successfully backing a push for the country to ban the construction of minarets, the far-right Swiss People's Party has mounted another aggressive campaign.

This time they want to get Switzerland to clamp down on foreigners guilty of certain crimes by stripping them of their right to remain.

Its signature poster illustrates a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the Swiss flag. Another poster depicts a gangster-like man with the slogan "Ivan S., rapist, and soon a Swiss?"

"It's very simple: we think that people we welcome in Switzerland should respect the rules of this country," Fabrice Moscheni, president of the SVP in canton Vaud, told AFP.

"If they don't respect these rules, they should be going away and expelled from our territory," he said.

"If you welcome somebody to your house, and he comes and destroys everything, I don't think you want him to come back."

Judges can already issue expulsion orders for foreign criminals, but the SVP's proposal goes further.

It would require automatic expulsions for those found guilty of "rape, serious sexual offence, acts of violence such as robbery," drug trafficking, as well as "abuse of social aid."

According to the Federal Office of Migration, some 350 to 400 people are expelled every year, but if the initiative was adopted, this figure would rise to 1,500.

Critics object that the initiative smacks of discrimination, and that it runs in the same xenophobic vein as that of banning minarets.

Entrepreneur Guillaume Morand, who funded his own campaign against the initiative, said the proposal "creates a two-speed justice system."

Amnesty International and the Socialist Party have also noted that the initiative is against international conventions, as it could see refugees sent back to their home countries where they risk being tortured or even killed.

The Swiss government has also opposed the initiative.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party in another referendum has launched a campaign for "more tax justice", asking the Swiss to approve a minimum tax rate of 22 percent for people earning more than 250,000 francs (188,000 euros, 249,000 dollars).

The move would cap the right of individual cantons and communes to set their own tax rates and force the country's wealthiest to pay more to the taxmen.

Some industrialists such as lift magnate Alfred Schindler have threatened to pack up and leave if the proposal is adopted.

The government and centre-right parties have all opposed the proposal, warning that it would dilute Switzerland's attractiveness.

But proponents believe that the tax competition is fueling a race to the bottom with cantons giving multi-millionaires ever more tax rebates in order to attract them as residents.

"The referendum aims for more tax justice: first between high and low income and assets, because the super rich will no longer be privileged compared to the rest of the population," said the Socialist Party.

"And secondly between the cantons -- because the tax differences would not widen," it added.

© 2010 AFP

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