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Davos security and violent protests spark controversy

Were the Swiss guilty of over-policing the Davos summit? The issue has caused deep divisions of opinion

(Keystone)

The tight police operation which prevented protests at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Saturday, and the violence which broke out afterwards in a number of Swiss cities have sparked controversy in Switzerland.

The Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, condemned the violence at a news conference in Davos on Sunday.

Leuenberger said the violence which erupted in Zurich late on Saturday, when anti-globalisation protestors went on the rampage and clashed with police, showed that that security operation in Davos was justified.

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, also condemned the violence.

Couchepin told swissinfo there could never be any excuse for violent protest, and said the unprecented security operation in Davos had clearly been justified. "The proof is that it was possible to hold the meeting without trouble," he said.

Police and army units effectively sealed off Davos for the World Economic Forum.

Police on Saturday succeeded in blocking about 300 protesters who had managed to reach the town from getting near the congress centre where the World Economic Forum is being held. At one stage, water cannon were used to drive them back.

Although serious violence was averted in Davos, there was considerable violence in Zurich.

Protesters, arriving back from the Davos area by train, set fire to cars and damaged buildings. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse the crowd and around 100 arrests were made.

There were also clashes between police and demonstrators in Bern.

There was heavy criticism of police methods in Davos in Switzerland's Sunday newspapers. "Police methods just like a dictatorship" headlined the tabloid SonntagsBlick.

"The spirit of Davos suffocated in tear gas" said the SonntagsZeitung.

Representatives of non-governmental organisations, who have already threatened to walk out of this year's Davos meeting, protested on Sunday at what they called the attack on the right to free assembly.

One NGO, the Declaration of Bern, said it would launch legal action against the authorities for the "heavy-handed" police action.

Couchepin, however, told swissinfo that such criticism was unfounded.

"May I remind you that some protesters said they didn't want an open dialogue but only to interrupt this meeting, and freedom to meet is one of the fundamental rights of a democracy."

The economics minister said he was satisfied that Davos would continue to host the World Economic Forum.

by Michael Hollingdale


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