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Swiss voters say no to ending mandatory military service

Swiss voters have decided not to abolish the country's mandatory military draft, in a referendum on Sunday. The proposal was backed by pacifists and left-wing parties, but opposed by Switzerland's cross-party government.

Exit polls showed a little more than a quarter of voters backed the initiative, while the public broadcaster RTS said the opposition to the plan was a full 10 percentage points higher than forecast. The Group for a Switzerland without an Army had pushed for voluntary military service in the country.

But the government had rejected doing away with the current system, saying there would be a lack of volunteers and could result in Switzerland being unable to not only defend itself, despite being surrounded by friendly nations, but limit the services and protection it provides internationally.

Supporters of conscription say the Swiss army plays a key role in providing security at international summits, disaster relief, and helps to bring together a country with three main language groups - German, French and Italian.

"Abolishing military service would break the genuine link uniting the people and the army," said defence minister Ueli Maurer ahead of the vote.

Swiss citizens who are male and aged between 18-32 begin their service with a seven-week boot camp, and take six 19-day refresher exercises over following years. However conscientious objectors have been able to complete non-military service in areas such as environmental projects since 1992.

Men who do not serve must pay four percent of their salary instead, as a special tax.

jr/hc (dpa, AFP)