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Swiss reject controversial proposal to expel foreigners who commit crimes

The referendum had been polling well last year, but it drove voter turnout and was ultimately rejected by a majority of voters.

Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to automatically expel foreigners who commit even low-level crimes, according to results, handing a setback to a popular nationalist party that had put forward the measure.

The initiative was rejected Sunday by 59 percent of voters, the government Web site showed. It was the most controversial of a number of national and local issues in the referendum, propelling voter turnout to top more than 62 percent — which the state broadcaster said was the highest turnout since 1992.

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The outcome comes as a blow to the Swiss People's Party, which had campaigned for the plan, and was a turnaround from opinion polls last year.

The Swiss government had opposed the measure. Federal councilor Simonetta Sommaruga praised a push by advocacy groups to help rebuff the measure, telling RTS television that voters had sent the message: "Human rights are important in our country: They should not be restricted."

Under the proposal, Swiss law would have been changed to make expulsion part of the sentence for any foreigner, whether for severe crimes like murder or low-level crimes such as threatening officials or giving false testimony — if committed twice in a ten-year span.

A broad coalition of political parties and legal experts had rejected the plan, saying it would effectively create a two-tier justice system that treats Switzerland's two million or so foreigners — about a quarter of the population — more harshly.

Public debate over the issue was unusually fierce by Swiss standards. The People's Party's campaign posters showed a white sheep atop a Swiss flag, kicking away a black sheep. Opponents of the measure released an electronic ad at train stations showing a tattered swastika next to a large "No" to the referendum.