Switzerland's newspapers on Monday welcomed the outcome of the nationwide poll in which voters rejected an initiative to curb the size of the foreign population to 18 per cent. They warned, however, there was still much to be done.
Voters turned down the initiative, with 63 per cent against, and 36 per cent in favour.
The mass tabloid, Blick, said the government could not now rest on its laurels. It said many people had voted for the initiative out of protest or fear of foreigners and crime. Politicians had to take the fears of Swiss people seriously, it said.
The Berne newspaper, Der Bund, said greater efforts were needed to ensure that foreigners were better integrated. The clear "no" vote, it said, was based on economic factors rather than tolerance.
The Zurich daily, Tages-Anzeiger, echoed the sentiment, saying the result was not a signal that the Swiss people are particularly humane. It warned that the negative attitude towards foreigners was still significant.
The Geneva daily, Le Temps, welcomed the result, but said Switzerland has still not conquered xenophobia. It warned that for the first time the campaign saw a government party, the Swiss people's Party, embracing a policy which - had it been adopted - would have led to Switzerland being ostracised.
The Financial Times wrote: "The number of votes in favour of the latest referendum highlights the continuing sensitivity of the "überfremdung" (over-foreignersiation) issue in Swiss politics."
"Switzerland had been anxious not to be tarred with the same xenophobic brush as Austria," it added.
The justice minister, Ruth Metzler - speaking for the government on Sunday - welcomed the result, and said it was a signal to the international community that Switzerland was willing to adhere to its commitments.
Metzler told a news conference in Berne the government took the 36 per cent "yes" vote seriously. But she said the government would continue with its current policies towards foreigners.
The results again showed differences in voting patterns in German- and French-speaking cantons. In several Swiss-German cantons the "yes" vote was over 40 per cent; in the central canton of Schwyz it was as high as 48 per cent.
People living in the French-speaking part of the country rejected the measure by a larger majority. In Neuchatel and Geneva, for example, 75 and 76 per cent came out against it.
The initiative sought to reduce the number of foreigners to 18 per cent from 19.3 per cent. There are currently 1.3 million foreigners resident in Switzerland.
Switzerland has proportionally one of the largest foreign populations of any European country. But at the same time, Switzerland has some of the toughest naturalisation procedures.
Six similar moves to curb the level of foreigners have been launched since 1970 but all have failed at the ballot box.
swissinfo with agencies
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