The Swiss government is preparing the largest military mobilization since the Second World War to provide security at the European football championships in 2008.This content was published on September 13, 2006 - 21:46
Its plan is to deploy up to 15,000 soldiers with possible use of unmanned drones and helicopters. The estimated cost is SFr10 million ($8 million).
It is foreseen at present that 13,900 soldiers will be called upon but, as at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, they will not come into direct contact with the public.
Defence Minister Samuel Schmid told a news conference in Bern on Wednesday that the high numbers were justified because of the size of the event, which is also being hosted by neighbouring Austria.
He said the precise number of soldiers deployed would depend on which teams qualified for the finals and where they would play.
Schmid could not say exactly how many police officers would be used but estimated there would be "several thousand".
Infantry and logistics
The defence ministry commented that the plans included three infantry battalions, two logistics battalions, as well as command support, communications and electronic warfare battalions and other units.
The army would protect buildings and secure Swiss air space but would not be used to confront violent football fans.
If needed, unmanned drones and Super Puma helicopters with cameras would be used to monitor match venues from the air.
The Swiss parliament has approved a government request of up to SFr10.5 million for the mobilization but still has to agree to its scope.
The soldiers would be mainly used to support the operations of civilian authorities in Switzerland's four Euro 2008 venues – the capital Bern, Basel, Geneva and Zurich.
All four host cities have expressed satisfaction with the plan, with Geneva senator Laurent Moutinot describing it as a "very positive sign".
The Swiss Police Officers' Federation also expressed its approval and noted that the protection of people would remain the responsibility of the civilian police.
But the Group for a Switzerland without an Army was unhappy with the news, saying that the mobilization foreseen was "totally out of proportion".
It added that the sport portfolio should be taken away from Schmid, who had shown "a commitment to an army that was unemployed".
Earlier this year, Schmid expressed the view that additional measures of security would be necessary to combat hooliganism at Euro 2008.
In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, he spoke of measures including alcohol bans outside the stadiums and the use of electronic face-recognition technology.
"I am personally in favour of an alcohol ban... Alcohol is a catalyst for violence.
"However, responsibility for the decision remains with the individual cantons, and detailed planning must be carried out by the police."
A member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, Schmid said he would also advocate the use of video cameras for identity checks.
"We should use every means that we can in accordance with data protection legislation," he commented.
The country was shocked last May when there were post-match riots in Basel after the league championship decider which opponents FC Zurich won towards the end of the game.
The violence and clashes with police raised questions whether Switzerland could contain hooligans when it co-hosted the European finals. The opening match of Euro 2008 is due to be played in Basel.
swissinfo with agencies
The European football championships take place in Switzerland and Austria from June 7-29, 2008.
Fifteen matches take place in Switzerland – in Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich.
The estimated cost to Swiss public authorities is SFr182 million.
The tournament is expected to bring in SFr500 million to Switzerland.
During the Second World War, the Swiss army mobilized 450,000 men. As a militia body with some professionals, it has been reduced significantly since voters accepted a package of reforms in 2003 called Army XXI. It now has about 155,000 men and women.
Communal and cantonal police are responsible for public law and security in Switzerland. Several federal offices also have police tasks.
The army is called in to support civilian authorities when there are special events such as the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos or a summit.
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