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Switzerland retains its safe image

(Keystone)

Violent crime and extremism are on the rise in Switzerland, according to an internal security report published on Wednesday.

But Switzerland remains one of the safest countries in Europe and is not considered to be a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda.

The Federal Police Office's annual report noted an increase in violence between groups of the extreme Left and Right in 2003.

It also said the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos and the G8 summit in Evian near Geneva gave rise to some of the worst clashes in decades and caused millions of francs in damages.

Jürg Bühler, deputy head of analysis and prevention at the Federal Police Office, said the report was intended to raise awareness about security risks.

Worrying trends

While pointing to the general threat from international terrorism and the increase in criminal networks in west Africa and southeastern Europe, the report’s overall conclusion is that Switzerland remains safe.

“This report is not saying that everything that is bad comes from abroad. We also have problems in Switzerland,” Bühler said.

“But the crime we see on the streets and the flow of criminal money from the East can’t be ignored.”

Manon Schick, spokeswoman for the Swiss section of Amnesty International, cautioned against attributing all the problems in Switzerland to certain groups.

“Amnesty has just denounced in its annual report the xenophobic slogans seen in [political] campaigns [in Switzerland] last year,” Schick said.

“There is a real fear that the [report's conclusions] could be used to justify an excessive use of force.”

Victor Mauer, a security expert at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, also cautioned against attributing blame to particular groups.

“It’s an oversimplification,” he said.

More violent

The report said violent clashes between Left and Right could escalate in the current climate of social and political polarisation, especially during a period of economic downturn.

Rightwing extremists and rightwing sympathisers, of whom there are an estimated 1,700 in Switzerland, are increasingly young and violent.

The report said a recent development was that they had begun attending demonstrations or marches against paedophilia, globalisation and the conflict in Iraq.

But police officials say that their political potential remains limited since they are unable to organise themselves effectively.

Risk of extremism

On the international level, the pressure is on to prevent extremism and terrorism. As Britain and Germany take a harder line with Islamist extremists, these groups could look for a more accommodating base in Switzerland, the report said.

It said Switzerland was not a recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and there was no clear evidence that terrorist groups were present in the country.

However, 82 Swiss bank accounts - containing some SFr34 million - remain frozen following sanctions against people or organisations suspected of financing terrorism.

The Federal Police Office issued a call for improved access to information where it relates to state security.

But Christa Hanetseder, a specialist in violence for the National Research Programme, told swissinfo the real problem is closer to home.

“We have determined that domestic violence is much more threatening than the threat of terrorism or violent crime,” she said.

swissinfo

Key facts

Violent clashes are becoming more frequent in Switzerland, according to the Federal Police Office.
The annual internal security report found that extremists are increasingly young and violent.
Damage costs have risen by millions of francs.

end of infobox

In brief

The report found that there was no clear evidence of ties between people in Switzerland and terrorist groups.

The police said more than 80 Swiss bank accounts were frozen last year on suspicion that they were being used to help finance terrorism.

The Federal Police Office is calling for greater access to private information in the interests of state security.

end of infobox

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