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Swiss protesters Police investigate source of Hamburg violence

Protesters stay between fires on a street during a protest against the G20 summit in Hamburg


Swiss authorities are examining whether to bring criminal charges against some of the left-wing Swiss proponents of last week’s violent demonstrations at the Group of 20 summit in Germany.

The public prosecutor’s office in Bern is looking into a possible criminal procedure based on the police’s investigation into the suspected planning of violence against officers, according to a report in Swiss newspaper Blick on Tuesday.

The investigation revolves around a controversial public culture centre known as the Reitschule in Bern, which has split opinion for decades. Supporters call it a symbol of a liberal and free society, while opponents argue it is a hotbed of left-wing extremism and drug dealing.

"The cantonal police have ascertained the facts and will report them to the prosecutor's office," said Christof Scheuer, a spokesman for that officeexternal link. The prosecutors, he said, are looking at whether a procedure should be opened and fits “within the framework of the question of who can be held responsible” for the violence in Hamburg.

Broader implications

The move in Switzerland mirrors wider calls for a crackdown on the anti-capitalist militants and members of the extreme left-wing who traveled to the G20 summit Germany from across Europe.

Germany's latest estimates say it has 28,500 left-wing extremists, including 8,500 who were considered violent. Italy, Greece and Sweden have similar radical left-wing movements, as does Switzerland in some of its biggest cities, such as Zurich and Bern.

Supporters of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hostexternal link to last weekend’s summit in Hamburg, have called for a possible Europe-wide registry and other new efforts to thwart left-wing extremists.

The summit drew tens of thousands of protesters and ended in violent clashes and injuries to almost 500 police officers. The damages, including two nights of looted shops, burnt cars and other violence, is expected to cost millions of euros.

The violence overshadowed the media coverage of the summit, which included the first meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Long-simmering discontent

Bern's city-owned Reitschule, or “Riding School”, is an entertainment venue in a 19th century building with a colourful and often controversial history.

Bern’s left-wing local government has kept it open despite attempts by some authorities to shut it down because of its association with radical left-wing movements.

On its websiteexternal link, the centre offers a long series of media releases arguing with authorities. In the latest one, on May 24, it takes aim at “the wrongly conveyed facts of the cantonal police and criticises the fact that the police once more pursue policies that oppose the Reitschule”.

Voters have on at least five occasions rejected initiatives aiming to shut it down in the wake of violence. Voters in 2010 rejected a bid by the local sectionexternal link of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party calling for the Reitschule to be sold to the highest bidder. More recently, it was the centre of riots over squatters’ rights that caused injuries and hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs in damage.

Last year, the People’s Party handed in its initiative to close the Reitschule. It called for a CHF54 million ($54.1 million) cut in subsidies for the city of Bern from public coffers if the autonomous cultural centre is not closed down.

After Bern’s cantonal parliamentexternal link deemed the initiative invalid, the People’s Party challenged the decision in court. and agencies/jmh

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