Demonstrators allowed in Davos for the first time

Demonstrators will be allowed to protest in Davos Keystone Archive

Swiss authorities have given permission for the first time for a demonstration to be held in Davos against the World Economic Forum.

This content was published on January 16, 2003 - 16:58

Organisers of the demonstration say they cannot guarantee that it will be free of violence. Security has been stepped up in the Swiss mountain resort.

In previous years, unofficial demonstrations have been tolerated by the Graubünden authorities, but they occasionally degenerated into violence.

This year, the main organisers of the demonstration, the Olten Alliance, say they don't want any confrontation with the security forces. But the organisation stopped short of calling for a complete ban on violence.

"We have spent almost a year discussing the meaning of the word violence," Walter Angst, chief spokesman for the Olten Alliance told swissinfo.

"People have very different interpretations of it. For the police, a sit-down protest can be violent."

Respect for people and property

Angst said the Olten Alliance had decided to make a clear statement of how it hoped the demonstration would proceed.

"We don't want any confrontation with the police," he said. "And we want the demonstrators to respect the people and property of Davos."

But this statement does not go far enough for other organisations, such as Pro Natura, which, together with the Public Eye on Davos group, will be holding alternative discussion groups during the WEF's annual meeting.

"The Olten Alliance hasn't distanced itself from violence as much as we would like," Pro Natura's Peter Ruegg told swissinfo.

"In the past, these demonstrations have always turned violent," he continued.

"In the past, there were always some people who went out to destroy everything they encountered. We are against violence and we don't want to be connected with that."

Miriam Behrens, spokeswoman for the Public Eye on Davos, pointed out that her organisation, while having doubts about the World Economic Forum, did not actually believe the Forum should be abolished.

"Contrary to the Olten Alliance, we are not actually against the WEF," she told swissinfo. "We think the Forum has a right to exist, and equally, we think the demonstrators have the right to demonstrate."

Security high

Whether the planned demonstration remains peaceful or not, the Swiss security services are mounting a huge operation for the duration of the WEF summit.

More than 1,000 business and political leaders are expected at the Forum, which is returning to Davos after taking place in New York last year.

Local Swiss police have been gearing up for the event for months and a few days ago made arrangements with the German state of Baden-Württemberg to borrow six water cannon.

Germany is also providing 50 police officers under a Swiss/German cooperation agreement signed last year.

On Wednesday, the Swiss government authorised a no-fly zone over Davos, giving defence minister Samuel Schmid the power to order the shooting down of unauthorised aircraft entering the forbidden air space.

Walter Angst of the Olten Alliance says the high security, and the example of previous anti-globalisation demonstrations, such as the rioting at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, are even more reason to avoid conflict in Davos.

"We don't want another Genoa," he insisted. "There are so many police and soldiers on duty we would be crazy to try anything."

"I'm confident of a peaceful demonstration."

swissinfo, Imogen Foulkes

Key facts

Over 1,000 political and business leaders are expected at the World Economic Forum summit, which runs from January 23 to 28.

The Swiss authorities have mounted a major, and very costly, security operation, even closing the airspace over Davos.

Canton Graubünden has given permission for a demonstration against the WEF to take place.

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