Swiss Parliament's Lower House Backs Ban on Face Veils

Switzerland's lower house of parliament narrowly backed a ban on face veils, echoing moves by neighbouring France and other European nations to tighten controls in the wake of Islamist militant attacks.

The plan by right-wing politician Walter Wobmann, who led a successful campaign to outlaw new minarets in 2009, still has to pass through the upper house and the government before it becomes law.

But it joins a list of measures championed by populist and right-wing movements that have polarized the Alpine nation and drawn some criticism from abroad, including most recently a referendum ordering curbs on immigration from the EU.

Wobmann, from the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party, has said the veil ban will preserve Swiss culture and curb radical Islam. He is also pushing for a referendum on the issue.

His party, the most powerful in Swiss parliament after winning about 30 percent of seats in a 2015 election, pushed the measure through with help from lawmakers from the center-right. It may have a tougher time passing the upper house, where parties that opposed the ban, including the Social Democrats, have a stronger presence.

A poll in August found that 71 percent of Swiss favor a nationwide burqa ban along the lines of one that went into effect in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino this year, covering locals and visitors alike.

About 5 percent of Swiss residents are Muslim, and very few wear the face-covering niqab or burqa.