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NGOs threaten Forum withdrawal

Manuel Chiriboga (left), Vandana Shiva (centre) and Jeremy Rifkin lead NGO protests at the police security operation at Davos

(swissinfo.ch)

Several non-governmental organisations attending the World Economic Forum have threatened to pull out in disgust at this year's security operation. They described Swiss policing methods as heavy-handed and undemocratic.

The security operation in Davos is the tightest mounted by Swiss police in decades.

This has clearly angered many of the NGO representatives present who issued a statement on Saturday afternoon calling on the Forum's sponsors to support free expression and peaceful assembly.

Vandana Shiva, one conference delegate, accused the police of being "brutes". She said that when she wandered into the streets to see for herself what was going on, a policeman shoved her aggressively.

"I was making my way towards the young people at the barriers and a policeman just came and shoved me," said Shiva. "I told him I was a delegate and showed my badge but he just pushed me."

"On the one hand, peaceful protesters are being brutalised, and on the other, the law and order machinery, instead of being that last backup, is becoming the norm," Shiva told swissinfo.

In their statement, five NGO representatives said the Forum's organisers should ask the Swiss government to open up the streets of Davos immediately to allow people to express their views.

They also called on the Forum to give business, governments and civil society equal representation in future years.

"If we continue with this kind of fortress mentality just to ensure decorum, we will lose the spirit of dialogue," said Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation of Economic Trends.

"If we do not see an opening up of the streets, all of us pledge to encourage other NGOs not to take part," he said.

The managing director of the Forum, Claude Smadja, was at the briefing to answer its critics and said the organisation would not be pushed into giving any group equal representation.

"We invite whoever we believe is relevant to open dialogue. We are not the United Nations, we are a private organisation," Smadja said.

Smadja said the security operation had become a logistical nightmare in recent years and backed the Swiss government's decision to ban demonstrations for the Forum's duration.

He said peaceful protesters had become a front for violence.

"Whatever their good intentions and good faith, they have become convenient covers for professional trouble-makers."

This Forum was meant to bridge divides between business and civil society but after Saturday's events, the gulf seems wider than ever.

by Michael Hollingdale

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