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Davos security to be tighter than ever

Police will be out in force to ensure anti-globalisation protests don't turn violent


The Swiss authorities are mounting a huge security operation in Davos to ensure the smooth running of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

Officially, security is the responsibility of the local canton of Graubünden, but police reinforcements will be brought in from all over the country to protect the world's top political and economic leaders.

The focus of the security operation has turned away from the spectre of a terrorist attack to the more tangible threat posed by anti-globalisation protesters.

In the past two years, economic summits of the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have all resulted in violent clashes between the police and protesters.

The World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos has not escaped the attention of the protesters. Last year's summit was marked by violence as President Clinton addressed delegates in the fortress-like conference centre.

The police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

This year, more police than ever will be drafted in to reduce the threat of disruption and there is a ban on demonstrations.

But this has not stopped plans for a protest on Saturday and the local politician in charge of Graubünden's police force has warned that violence cannot be ruled out.

"We cannot totally prevent demonstrations in Davos," says Peter Aliesh, "We also have to take into account groups of wreckers who are ready for anything."

His comments came after a group of Geneva-based radicals, "Anti WTO-Coordination" said they did not exclude violence at Davos.

"We do not rule out the possibility of excesses because the police will be there in force and could take extremely repressive measures against us," said an unnamed spokesman.

Anti-WTO Coordination wants nothing less than to shut down the Forum and has dismissed any prospect of opening a dialogue. They say the Forum, which is a private organisation, has no legitimacy.

For his part, the managing director of the World Economic Forum, Claude Smadja, has said he will not talk to groups that resort to violence.

The situation leaves the Swiss government in an awkward position. It doesn't want to assume official responsibility for the security operation for fear of being portrayed by protesters as suppressing their freedom of speech.

But Smadja says Switzerland, not the World Economic Forum, will bear the brunt of the fallout should the conference degenerate into violence.

"The real damage would be to Switzerland," says Smadja. "To the image of Switzerland as a democratic country able to uphold the values of a democratic society."

But the Swiss authorities will find it difficult to succeed where police in the United States, France and Australia have all failed in attempts to prevent economic meetings descending into chaos.

by Michael Hollingdale


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