China's President Xi Jinping looks on during a meeting with Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith (not seen) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/ Nicolas Asouri/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss authorities say a planned protest by pro-Tibetan groups against Xi Jinping must end before his arrival in Bern on Sunday, in a bid to avoid the kind of confrontation that marked the last visit by a Chinese president 18 years ago.
Members of Switzerland's Tibetan community and supporters can demonstrate for two hours before noon on Sunday in the capital's city centre, Bern municipal security director Reto Nause said on Friday.
Xi flies into Zurich at noon on Sunday and is due to arrive later in the Swiss capital for a gala dinner. He will hold talks with Swiss officials on Monday and on Tuesday will go to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.
In 1999, demonstrators took to roofs overlooking the Swiss parliament with banners demanding "Free Tibet" during a visit by China's then-President Jiang Zemin.
Police intervened when people tried to throw eggs at the Chinese delegation.
This time, the area around the Swiss parliament building will be closed off from Sunday morning to Monday afternoon.
Nause said the Tibetan community had agreed to limit the protest's duration and to its location in a square about three blocks from parliament.
He said a balance had been struck between the protesters' interests and the security concerns of the Chinese visitors.
"I expect that members of the community will stick to this agreement, which we reached after intense but constructive dialogue," Nause told Reuters.
Speaking to Swiss state broadcaster SRF, he said police would also be alert to potential disruptions by pro-China activists.
After a failed uprising against Chinese rule nearly six decades ago, tens of thousands of Tibetans including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled into exile in neighbouring India and other countries. Switzerland's 6,500-strong Tibetan community is one of Europe's largest.
Tenzin Nyingbu, president of the Tibetan community in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, said on Friday his group had sought a demonstration site as close to where President Xi would appear in Bern as possible but had to accept what he termed a "compromise."
"We have to find a balance that we could do something and (the) Swiss Government also doesn't have to face any problem due to our action," he said.
"We will do only the thing which is permitted by the Swiss authority. And also we have published an announcement to all Tibetans that the demonstration to the Chinese President is important, but more important is to keep dignity and respect."
Amnesty International raised concerns that the Swiss were caving in to Chinese pressure at the expense of civil rights."Berne's decision to only allow a demonstration away from the view of the Chinese delegation must be viewed as a critical restriction on free speech and assembly rights," Amnesty International said in a statement.
During a visit to Switzerland in October, the Dalai Lama urged Tibetans to keeping fighting from abroad for more autonomy for Tibet within China.
Beijing vigorously condemns foreign leaders who meet the "splittist" Dalai Lama. Trips abroad by Chinese leaders are often met with pro-Tibet protests, attempts by police to keep them away from the visiting delegation and pro-China counter-protests.
Xi is the first Chinese president to attend the WEF.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)