European commentators on Monday condemned Switzerland's vote over the weekend to automatically expel foreigners accused of certain crimes, calling it a slap in the face for the European Union and a breach of the Alpine nation's international treaty obligations.
The expulsion initiative, put forward by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), was supported by 52.9 percent of voters in a referendum on Sunday, with 47.1 percent voting against it. The SVP has become Switzerland's biggest political movement by tapping growing fears about immigration. It was behind the vote a year ago to ban the construction of new minarets in a decision that drew international criticism.
The SVP said foreigners were responsible for nearly 60 percent of murders in the country last year.
The Swiss branch of Amnesty International said Sunday had been a "black day for human rights in Switzerland" and that the country was undermining international agreements including the European convention on human rights.
"Amnesty International fears that, in the future, people could be deported from Switzerland to a country in which they face torture or the death penalty," the organization said in a statement.
A 'Dangerous Signal to Neighboring States'
It added that the vote could do lasting damage to Switzerland's reputation as a defender of human rights. "More importantly, Switzerland is sending a dangerous signal to neighboring states. The policy of discrimination could also fall on fertile soil there."
The European Commission, the EU's executive, said on Monday it would carefully study how Switzerland implements the law. "We remain confident that Switzerland will continue to respect its obligations in terms of international law and international treaties," said a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
A government committee will now start drawing up a draft law that will be submitted to parliament for a vote. Critics have said the decision could contravene international anti-discrimination treaties and the free movement of people under EU law.
Although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it does allow EU citizens to take up residence without special permission.
The center-left German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung said Sunday's vote amounted to a "fatal signal."
'Despots and Dictators Get Welcomed'
"The Swiss have done it again," the paper wrote. "By saying Yes to the expulsion initiative -- just like with the minaret ban a year ago -- they are sending a message to the world: 'We don't care what you think! And don't stop us cleaning up our home.'"
"The European Union is also a community of the law. It shouldn't accept that a country with which it has close ties wantonly positions itself outside that community. Switzerland is about to break one of the seven bilateral agreements with the EU."
Official figures show foreigners make up more than one-fifth of Switzerland's population of 7.7 million.
Belgian newspaper Le Soir said: "The Swiss have once again slapped the EU in the face." It said the expulsion is "absolutely incompatible with the bilateral accord of free movement of people which links Switzerland to the EU."
Austria's Die Presse wrote: "The growing anti-foreigner stance, which affects not only Africans and eastern Europeans but Germans or Austrians as well, exposes a certain schizophrenia: On the one hand foreign murderers, robbers and drug dealers are to be expelled from Switzerland. On the other hand despots, dictators, mafia members and businessmen whose money often comes from dubious sources, are welcomed with a 'Grüezi.'" Grüezi is a Swiss German greeting.
In the same referendum on Sunday, 58.5 percent of voters rejected a proposal that would have imposed a minimum regional tax on the wealthy.