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ZURICH, Sept 11 (Reuters) - The Swiss lower house of parliament on Wednesday backed Switzerland's proposed purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden's Saab, a deal worth $3.4 billion.
The deal, which will be debated by the upper house of parliament on Sept. 18, could still be derailed by a popular referendum even if approved, if at least 50,000 people or eight cantons call for one within a limited timeframe.
Switzerland opted for the Gripen as a cheaper alternative to the Eurofighter Typhoon, developed by a consortium of BAE , Finmeccanica and EADS, and Dassault Aviation's Rafale jet.
Switzerland, which hasn't fought an international war for 200 years, wants the Gripen jets to replace its aging Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters, a move unpopular with some because it will require cost cuts in other areas, such as education. (Reporting by Caroline Copley and Martin de Sa'Pinto)