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Swiss voters reject plan to protect wealth by cutting immigration (+video)

Swiss voters have resoundingly rejected two proposals aimed at protecting the country's considerable wealth, by investing heavily in gold and limiting immigration to a trickle.

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    Swiss voters looked set to reject two closely-watched referendums on Sunday that would have forced the central bank to buy up massive amounts of gold and introduced strict new limits on immigration, threatening Switzerland's close economic ties to the European Union.
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Voters in Switzerland on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected plans to protect the country's wealth by investing in gold and to drastically limit immigration or to eliminate a special tax that draws rich foreigners, according to polling firm gfs.bern.

A proposal to require the Swiss central bank to hold a fifth of its reserves in gold was opposed by 78 percent of voters and supported by 22 percent, projections based on tallies provided by selected voting districts indicated. At last count, the measure — which had drawn attention worldwide and required the backing of a majority of voters and cantons (states) — was rejected in 22 of 26 cantons.

The plan would have forced the Swiss National Bank to buy massive amounts of gold within five years and likely causing the global price for the valuable metal to jump.

"After this clear decision by the people, there are no further grounds to pursue another similar initiative," one of the three parliamentarians behind the proposal, Luzi Stamm, told Swiss broadcaster SRF of its defeat. But he said the campaign had at least raised awareness of the central bank's shortcomings.

The proposal to limit immigration to 0.2 percent of Switzerland's population — about 16,000 immigrants a year for a country of 8 million — received the backing of 26 percent of voters, while 74 percent opposed it. Currently, immigration is estimated at around 80,000 a year.

The "Ecopop" initiative would also have forced Switzerland to devote a large chunk of its foreign aid to programs aimed at reducing population growth in poor countries.

As with the gold initiative, government and business leaders warned voters the measure could do more harm than good and further inflame tensions with the European Union. Andreas Thommen, a Green Party member who oversaw the campaign, told SRF it had been "a David and Goliath battle" against the establishment, and Switzerland "missed the opportunity to set the course for a sustainable future."

Earlier this year, Swiss voters narrowly backed a proposal by the nationalist People's Party to reintroduce quotas for immigrants. The outcome has proved to be a political headache for the Swiss government as it now needs to renegotiate bilateral treaties with the EU, of which it isn't a member.

A third national referendum, which would have abolished special tax discounts for rich foreigners living in Switzerland, was also defeated, according to gfs.bern. The pollsters predicted 60 percent voted against the measure, while 40 percent were in favor of it, and only one of the country's 26 cantons said yes to getting rid of a flat tax rate that helps attract the super wealthy.

Official results are expected to be published later Sunday.

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