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Swiss far-right threatens vote on free movement if migration rises

Swiss People's Party (SVP) President Albert Roesti attends a news conference in Bern, Switzerland October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s dominant Swiss People’s Party (SVP) threatened to launch a new referendum on ending the free movement of people across the border with the European Union if watered-down legislation fails to deliver the immigration cuts it wants.

SVP president Albert Roesti’s words late on Wednesday raised the prospect of a fresh confrontation with the European Union, Switzerland’s main trading partner, which balked at earlier moves spearheaded by the far-right party to curb immigration.

Swiss people voted in a 2014 referendum supported by the SVP to curb the number of immigrants - jeopardising a long-standing deal allowing Switzerland access to the EU single market in exchange for the free movement of people.

The Swiss government, bound to obey the referendum but determined not to damage relations with the bloc, drew up legislation that would give locals the first crack at jobs, but stopped short of imposing immigration quotas. Parliament is due to vote on it next week.

Roesti told SRF television that party leaders had decided not to call another referendum on the new law, but would instead wait to see if it failed to limit immigration.

“If that happens we will have to launch an initiative for a popular vote to end the free movement of people,” he said.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Heavens