UPDATE


A leading Swiss politician who called for a ban on separate Jewish and Muslim cemeteries has back-tracked and apologized.

"I am sorry. I didn't mean it like that," said Christophe Darbellay, leader of the country's Christian Democratic Party, according to the World Bulletin news site. He said his declaration in a TV interview Tuesday night was "about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society ... but you can't explain that in 15 seconds."

World Bulletin reports:

The Conference of European Rabbis criticised his comments on Thursday and said the Swiss minaret ban will fuel xenophobia and risks making Jews the next target of religious intolerance.

"We don't have a situation of the extreme right in Europe attacking Jews because they are content to attack Muslims," Philip Carmel, the international relations director for the Conference of European Rabbis, told Reuters. "But the Swiss example is classic: it's not just Muslims who are going to be targeted by the extreme right."

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW

Just a few days after Swiss voters approved of a ban on minarets in their country, the leader of a major Swiss political party is defending his call to ban separate Jewish and Muslim cemeteries.

According to Jewish news service JTA, Christophe Darbellay, head of the country's Christian Democratic Party, made the comment during a TV interview on Tuesday evening.

"It doesn't bother me to be buried next to a person of another religion," Darbellay told the Swiss daily Le Matin on Thursday. "But I don't imagine that in this country, every religion or sect can have a separate cemetery in every town. It wouldn't be manageable to make these exceptions. ... Principle requires that one does not distinguish on the basis of origin or religion."

JTA reports: "Darbellay reportedly said that existing cemeteries would not be affected by a ban, but that there should be no separate cemeteries in the future." The paper added that critics describe the Christian Democrat leader's move as an "escalation" of the political conflict between the Swiss and their Muslim minority.

On Sunday, by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent, Swiss voters approved a ban on minarets -- the towers that appear at the top of Muslim mosques -- raising concerns in many corners of the world about religious oppression. While it wasn't Darbellay's party that championed that move --the nationalist Swiss Peoples' Party had pushed for it -- Darbellay has in the past argued in favor of a ban on Muslim burqas.

Of the country's Muslim minority, he said: "The majority of them are integrated, but a minority refuses to respect our rules and dreams of Sharia law in place of our federal constitution, and that's unacceptable. We are all equal under the same law."

Switzerland's minaret ban is reflective of growing fears about the "Islamization" of Europe, a hot political topic on the continent in recent years. The move was condemned by the UN's human rights commissioner and even drew fire from Pope Benedict XVI.

Even the country's foreign minister warned that the minaret ban could pose a risk to Swiss security.