GENEVA (AFP) Swiss voters approved a ban on new mosque minarets being built, prompting dismay and anger in the Muslim world and drew widespread criticism on Monday, with neighbouring governments attacking what they called a demonstration of fear-driven prejudice. The referendum to ban the towers or turrets attached to mosques from where Muslims are traditionally called to prayer was approved Sunday by 57.5 percent of voters who cast ballots and in 22 out of the countrys 26 cantons. Far-right politicians across Europe celebrated the results, while the Swiss government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture. The far-right Swiss Peoples Party (SVP) - Switzerlands biggest party - had forced a referendum after collecting a mandatory 100,000 signatures from eligible voters within 18 months. They said that the minarets - of which Switzerland has just four and which are not allowed to broadcast the call to prayer - were not architectural features with religious characteristics, but symbolised a political-religious claim to power, which challenges fundamental rights. Having won a double majority on turnout of 53 percent, the initiative will now be inscribed in the countrys constitution. The Federal Council (government) respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted, said the government, which had firmly opposed the ban, in a statement. Its an expression of quite a bit of prejudice and maybe even fear, said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency. The Vatican also endorsed criticism by Swiss bishops that a vote in Switzerland to ban the construction of mosque minarets was a blow to religious freedom. Antonio Maria Sveglio, president of the pontifical council on migration, told the ANSA news agency that we are on the same page as the Conference of Swiss Bishops. In a statement after Sundays vote, the conference said it heightens the problems of cohabitation between religions while secretary-general Felix Gmur told Vatican Radio it was heavy blow to religious freedom and integration. It is clear that it is a negative signal in every way, theres no doubt about it, he told Swedish Radio. Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister of Switzerlands immediate neighbour France, was equally damning in his condemnation of the result. I am a bit shocked by this decision, Kouchner told RTL radio. It is an expression of intolerance. I hope the Swiss will reverse this decision quickly, he added. Lawmakers at the Council of Europe, a 47-member human rights watchdog that Switzerland currently chairs, issued a statement expressing its concern at the result. Although it expresses the popular will, the decision to ban the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is a source of profound concern, said Lluis Maria de Puig, the president of the bodys parliamentary assembly. The result of this referendum goes against the values of tolerance, dialogue and respect for other peoples beliefs, he added. In neighbouring Austria, Interior Minister Maria Fekter said the government would look at the Swiss ban, but stressed that freedom of religion is anchored in the (Austrian) constitution. But Austrian media were united in their attack of the Swiss ban. The Der Standard daily described the vote as the ugly face of direct democracy, while the Die Presse newspaper said Swiss voters had done a disservice to their country. Sundays result has also sparked anger in the Muslim world with religious groups in Pakistan attacking the referendum as extreme Islamophobia. Maskuri Abdillah, head of Indonesias biggest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the vote reflected a hatred of Swiss people against Muslim communities. Egypts Mufti Ali Gomaa, the Egyptian governments official interpreter of Islamic law, denounced the minaret ban as an insult to Muslims across the world and an attack on freedom of beliefs. Muslims account for just five percent of Switzerlands population of 7.5 million people, and form the third largest religion group after the dominant Roman Catholic and Protestant communities, although just 50,000 are estimated to openly worship.