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More than 200 detained in Bern demonstration

Police were out in force during the demonstration

(swissinfo.ch)

Police in the Swiss capital, Bern, have used tear gas and rubber bullets against leftwing anti-globalisation demonstrators taking part in an unauthorised protest.

The event, which comes four days before the annual meeting of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum in the alpine resort of Davos, had been banned after fears of violence.

The organisers of the demonstration, the "Alliance for a Global Opposition", had said they would not respect the ban, with their leader, Giovanni A. Schumacher, explaining the group wanted a march that was calm and without violence.

The group, which criticises "the World Economic Forum, the capitalist system and repression" had originally been allowed to demonstrate by city officials, but the authorities reversed their decision after remarks made by Schumacher in a television interview

Schumacher was among more than 240 people reported to have been detained temporarily by police. Several hundred are said to have taken part in the demonstration.

The head of the Bern cantonal police, Stefan Blättler, said the first people held in the morning were carrying baseball bats. According to Swiss law, those detained can be held for up to 24 hours.

Police – who turned out in large numbers from both Bern and northwestern Switzerland – carried out a number of identity checks in the city, including on young people arriving at Bern railway station.

Bottles and smoke bombs

Problems began in the late afternoon with police using tear gas and rubber bullets against activists, some hooded, who threw bottles and smoke bombs. Skirmishes followed, although damage to property was said to be limited.

There was confusion in the old city for a time as demonstrators repeatedly regrouped at various places. However, the demonstration petered out after 6.30 pm.

Bern authorities have been wary about allowing demonstrations in the city after violence that erupted when extremists attacked a rally by the rightwing Swiss People's Party before October's parliamentary elections.

At least 20 people were injured and dozens detained for questioning after extremists went on the rampage.

St Gallen protest

In a related development, about 120 anti-WEF demonstrators in the northeastern city of St Gallen protested peacefully on Saturday afternoon.

The city authorities had authorised the event but police were also out in force for the march.

The demonstration, organised mainly by the Greens and centre-left Social Democrats, was noisy but passed without incident.

Protestors, who were fewer in number than last year according to local police, called for global solidarity and for people to fight neo-liberalism.

swissinfo with agencies

World Economic Forum summit 2008

The annual WEF meeting takes place in Davos from January 23 – 27.

Those attending include 27 heads of state or government, 113 ministers, the heads of several international organisations, 1,370 business leaders and 340 representatives from civil society (religion, culture and NGOs)

Six of the seven Swiss cabinet members will also be there. The exception is the newly elected Evelyne Widmer-Schlumpf.

Decision makers will discuss the economy, geopolitics, ecology, business, technology and society at this year's event, which has as its theme "The power of collaborative innovation".

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