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Climate activists occupy Parliament Square

Parliament Square is a symbol of the destruction caused by the climate crisis, according to the protesters. Keystone / Peter Schneider

Several hundred protesters have pitched camp outside the Swiss parliament and the Swiss National Bank in Bern. Organisers plan to stay for the whole week and highlight inaction on climate change.

This content was published on September 21, 2020 - 09:03
Keystone-SDA/Reuters/ts

The activists arrived in Parliament Square at 4.30am on Monday to kick off “Rise Up for Change” week. They are protesting against the economic and political system that they say is responsible for the climate crisis.

About 40 protesters chained themselves to objects or to each other to make it harder for police to remove them, should authorities object to the protest. Traffic cannot pass through the square but access is not blocked to parliament, which is meeting for the last week of the autumn session. 

The activists invited the public to join them on the square, according to a joint statement by Climate Strike, Collective Climate Justice and Extinction Rebellion. 

“Parliament Square is a symbol of the destruction caused by the climate crisis,” said Anaïs Tilquin of Extinction Rebellion in the press release. “Just as parliament and the Federal Council have decided to offer airlines almost CHF2 billion ($2,2 billion), the Swiss National Bank and Credit Suisse are also investing billions of francs in the exploitation of fossil fuels. They are throwing oil on the fire while everything is already burning.”

The activists have announced that further action against political institutions, the economic elite and the financial centre is planned this week.

'Unapproved event'

Meanwhile, the presidents of the two parliamentary chambers have written to the Bern authorities urging them to take action to end the "unapproved event". They want the Bern authorities to declare the event illegal and to ensure "compliance with the applicable legal provisions”. Since 1925, demonstrations on the square have been forbidden during parliamentary sessions.

Bern city authorities held talks with several of the protesters on Monday. They made clear that no authorisation had been given for the protest camp and that their action was illegal, said Bern security director Reto Nause. He urged the activists not to disturb parliamentarians and proposed an alternative site for their demo.

Alec von Graffenried, Bern's mayor, told Keystone-ATS News Agency that the climate protest had taken him by surprise. "We knew there would be a week of action, but we didn't expect such a gathering," he said.

On Monday afternoon, the protesters announced that they would remove some of their tents to allow Tuesday's traditional market to take place in front of parliament. However, they plan to continue their protest on the square afterwards; the authorities' offer of an alternative protest location was also rejected.

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