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Swiss Approve Revamped Constitution

April 18, 1999

GENEVA (AP) _ Swiss voters approved a new constitution Sunday that eliminates the traditional requirement for the country’s currency to be backed by gold.

The modernization of the 125-year-old constitution, which was backed by all the major Swiss political parties and expected to pass easily, came down to a closer-than-expected vote.

Some 59 percent of voters casting ballots, 969,400 people, approved the new document. In addition to abolishing the gold standard for the Swiss franc, the constitution enshrines new rights in law, including the right to strike and the principle of equal opportunities for the handicapped.

But twelve of Switzerland’s 26 states, known as cantons, voted against the proposal, which needed a majority of both voters and states to pass. About 669,200 people _ 41 percent _ rejected it.

Turnout was only 35.3 percent, reflecting weariness with the system of direct democracy that sees Swiss citizens vote three or four times a year on a wide variety of national issues.

A relieved Justice Minister Arnold Koller said the result was ``a big step″ that was hard for many to take but would make ``an important contribution to strengthening national unity.″

The federal constitution was last overhauled in 1874, although it has been modified 140 times since then. Many of the changes approved Sunday involved updating its language.

Right-wingers who opposed the proposal objected that it wasn’t Swiss enough _ for example, replacing ``all Swiss are equal before the law″ with ``all human beings are equal before the law″ _ and questioned other changes, including the right to strike.

With the requirement to back the Swiss franc with gold removed, the government plans to use 1,300 tons of gold _ half the Swiss National Bank’s 2,600 tons of reserves _ to underpin the currency.

It plans to sell some of the current reserves to finance a proposed $5 billion foundation to aid victims of genocide, war and natural disasters. The foundation is unrelated to Swiss banks’ settlement last year with Holocaust survivors, but would be open to Holocaust-related projects.

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