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Swiss move to limit damage following EU immigration vote

GENEVA--Reeling Monday from a vote to cap EU immigration, Switzerland's government and business community moved to limit the damage to trade ties with the big European bloc.

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter played down talk of a “Black Sunday” in ties with Brussels, after 50.3 percent of voters backed a referendum proposal to end a seven-year-old pact that gave equal footing to most EU citizens in the Swiss labor market.

“We need to avoid that kind of language,” he told reporters.

“Switzerland is not going to rip up its deal with the EU on freedom of movement,” he insisted.

Yet that assertion butted up against a so-called “guillotine” clause in a package of deals with EU that said that, if one deal is voided, the others collapse too.

The other deals have to do with issues such as trade between the EU members and non-member Switzerland.

Brussels says it will now scrutinize all EU-Swiss relations as a result of the vote.

The government opposed the “Stop Mass Immigration” proposal — masterminded by the rightwing populist Swiss People's Party — but the people have the last word on a huge range of issues in the country's direct democracy.

The party argues that with 80,000 EU citizens arriving per year — more than the 8,000 predicted before the rules were liberalized in 2007 — the nation of eight million people must apply the brakes.

It claims that EU migrants undercut Swiss workers' salaries, and that overpopulation has driven up rents, stretched the health and education systems, and overloaded the road and rail networks.

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A man walks past an electoral poster against the “Stop Mass Immigration” referendum by the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party in Zurich, Switzerland on Thursday, Feb. 6.

(AP)

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