MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
To Switzerland now and a surprising victory for that country's political right. Voters agreed Sunday to ban the construction of minarets - those are the spires built on or near many mosques, which can be used to call Muslims to prayer. The Swiss government recognized the vote as democratic and binding. But as Eleanor Beardsley reports, it is struggling to reassure its Muslim citizens.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Party leader Oskar Freysinger says the vote's message is clear.
OSKAR FREYSINGER: You can practice your religion in your mosque, no problem. But don't interfere with our legal system. That's, in fact, the only message we have given. If they have understood it, we won't have any problem.
BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Male: Foreign language spoken.
BEARDSLEY: Switzerland has two hundred mosques and cultural centers but only four minarets. And Swiss minarets are for decoration because the call to prayer is sung by a muezzin only inside the mosque. The vote was particularly embarrassing for the Swiss government which had campaigned heavily against it. Swiss Foreign Minister Evelyn Widmer-Schlumpf tried to play down its impact today.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSLIM PRAYER)
EVELYN WIDMER: It interprets as result of the reaction of fears towards everything who is coming from abroad. It's not a rejection of the Muslim community in Switzerland because the Muslim community is well-integrated and would be able to continue to pray every Friday.
BEARDSLEY: Swiss human rights organizations called the vote a great disappointment in a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BEARDSLEY: After the referendum vote Sunday night, a crowd gathered in front of the Swiss parliament in Bern. As a violin played, many held placards that read: This is not my Switzerland. Eva Baungarden(ph) who spoke to Swiss World Radio said she was ashamed of her country.
EVA BAUNGARDEN: I'm not afraid of the different cultures. I'm not afraid of the Muslims. But I am afraid of people of my country who are so, I don't know, narrow-minded. Why are we afraid? What's our trouble?
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.
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