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Swiss Vote Rejects Strict Immigration Limits

People stand next to a board reading in French "We vote today" in the old town section of Fribourg, Switzerland, Nov. 30, 2014.

Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to impose radical limits on immigration, a referendum opponents have labelled xenophobic and disastrous for the economy.

The proposal to limit immigration growth to 0.2 percent of the population, or an addition of 16,000 people annually, was rejected by 74 percent of voters. Currently immigration is estimated at about 80,000 per year.

The proposal also called for Switzerland to use 10 percent of its international development aid budget for family planning programs abroad, a move critics say smacks of "neocolonialism."

Supporters of the proposed legislation say the current influx of foreigners is swelling the Alpine nation's population and shrinking its idyllic landscapes and green spaces.

Sunday's vote is the second time this year Switzerland has staged an immigration referendum. In February, the approval of an initiative demanding quotas for immigration from the European Union called into question non-member Switzerland's commitment to the free movement of people principle on which the country's economic ties with the EU are based.

Meanwhile, a second vote calling for the Swiss central bank to boost its gold reserves was opposed by 77 percent of voters. A third referendum that would scrap one of Switzerland's biggest tax perks for wealthy expatriates was also defeated.

Switzerland's system of direct democracy gives citizens the right to force popular votes, if they can gather enough signatures of support.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.