(RFE/RL) -- Swiss voters have approved a move to ban the construction of new minarets in the country.
Final results show that over 57 percent of voters backed the proposal in a referendum that was held today following an initiative by a right wing political party. Turnout was reported at about 55 percent.
Switzerland, home to some 400,000 Muslims, already has four minarets attached to mosques that will remain even after today’s referendum.
The Swiss government had urged voters to reject the proposed ban on new minarets, saying it would violate religious freedom and human rights, as well as potentially provoking Islamist radicalism and harming Switzerland’s image. But in a statement today, the government said it respects the decision of the voters.
"A majority of the Swiss people and the cantons have adopted the popular initiative against the construction of minarets. The Federal Council respects this decision," the statement said.
The controversial proposal to ban minarets was brought up by the right wing Swiss People’s party, which says minarets are symbols of rising Muslim political and religious power that could eventually turn Switzerland into an Islamic nation.
Campaigners demanded the referendum to halt "political Islamization" by amending the Swiss constitution to add a clause stating "the construction of minarets is prohibited."
The referendum was called after campaigners collected the 100,000 signatures required to put the question to a nationwide vote.
Right wing politician Ulrich Schluer from the Swiss People's Party told the Swiss website swissinfo.ch that minarets symbolize a political-religious claim to power.
“We do not forbid Islam -- we forbid the political symbol of Islamization, and this is the minaret,” Schluer said. “The minaret has nothing to do with religion; the minaret is a symbol of political victory [of Islam]. The first thing the Turks did when they conquered Constinople -- they installed a minaret on the top of the most important church.”
Amnesty International has warned that the ban would violate Switzerland's obligations to freedom of religious expression.
Agencies report that partial results from the poll indicate that the German-speaking canton of Lucerne accepted the ban. But the French-speaking cantons of Geneva and Vaud have reportedly voted against.
"I'm shocked by this initiative, by this answer I've given you my position. I'm against this initiative because I think it's [an example of] intolerance," one voter told Reuters in Geneva.
Early results suggest that 55 percent of voters have backed the initiative. Swiss media report that ahead of the referendum, opinion polls had predicted the ban would not receive voters’ support.
Claude Longchamp, leader of the gfs.bern polling institute, is quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the projection also forecasts approval by more than half of the country's 26 cantons, meaning it will become a constitutional amendment.
Tensions ran high ahead of the referendum as voters grappled with sensitive issues linked to immigration.