Merkel says Swiss challenge is to stay close to EU after vote

BERLIN Tue Feb 18, 2014 6:02am EST

An aide take the crutches of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she attends the appointment ceremony of the new Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt (unseen) at Bellevue Castle in Berlin February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

An aide take the crutches of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she attends the appointment ceremony of the new Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt (unseen) at Bellevue Castle in Berlin February 17, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday she regretted the results of a Swiss referendum in favor of immigration curbs and said the challenge now was for Switzerland to implement the results while maintaining close ties to the European Union.

"I regret the decision of the vote in Switzerland but our talk was in the spirit that we respect it," Merkel said at a news conference with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter.

"The challenge will now be that we deal with the results in a way that relations between the European Union and Switzerland remain as intense as possible with respect for the referendum," she added.

On February 9 Swiss voters narrowly backed proposals to curtail immigration from the EU. The vote was initiated by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), which tapped into concerns that Swiss culture is being eroded by foreigners, who account for nearly a quarter of the country's population.

(Reporting by Noah Barkin and Stephen Brown; writing by Erik Kirschbaum)

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