Swiss voters agree to 'burqa ban'

Voters in Switzerland have agreed to outlaw facial coverings in a referendum criticized as Islamophobic.

It was instigated by the same far-right group that organized a successful vote on banning new minarets in 2009.

The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a narrow margin according to provisional official results.

The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks.

Yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the 'burqa ban'.

Before the vote a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party had described face veils as quote "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland."

Muslim groups condemned the vote and said they would challenge it.

It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.