Tibetans and Uighurs protest in Geneva

China's President Xi Jinping and Swiss counterpart Doris Leuthard at Davos on Tuesday Keystone

Around 150 Tibetans and Uighurs protested in front of the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday against a visit to Switzerland by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This content was published on January 17, 2017 - 17:00, Simon Bradley,

“Stop the genocide against Tibetans,” people shouted in the Place des Nations square. They called for the Chinese president, who is on a week-long visit to Switzerland and the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, to bring back “Swiss democracy to Tibet and to China”.

On Sunday, Swiss police detained 32 Tibetans and Swiss nationals among a group of 400 protesting in Bern against the visit. Several people near a security zone set up for the state visit failed to comply with police instructions, Bern cantonal police said in a statement. Police also prevented a man from setting himself on fire, according to the statement. The man was taken care of by doctors.

In 1999, during President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Switzerland, Tibetan sympathisers unfurled “Free Tibet” banners in front of the Swiss parliament square. Their actions angered Jiang, who later told the Swiss government that they had “lost a good friend”.

On Wednesday, Xi is due to continue his visit with a stop-over at the UN Palais des Nations complex in Geneva, where he is set to meet UN secretary-general António Guterres and later visit the World Health Organization (WHO). A major security operation and police presence is being prepared until he leaves Switzerland on Thursday.

The Chinese president is due to give a speech at a special meeting at the UN on Wednesday afternoon but it remains invite-only and no press are allowed.

The Chinese leader arrived in the Swiss capital for a gala dinner on Sunday afternoon. He held talks with Swiss officials, including President Doris Leuthard, on Monday.

Davos speech

China and Switzerland forged a free-trade agreement in 2014 and Swiss companies count China among their most important markets. The two nations signed ten new bilateral agreements ranging from free trade to tourism.

On Tuesday he travelled to the annual meeting of the WEF, a first for a Chinese president, where he gave a speech.

In Davos, Xi warned countries against returning to protectionist trade policies, saying there would be no winners in a trade war.

Likening protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room” to protect from danger but also depriving the room of “light and air”, he told countries not to pursue their own interests at the expense of others.

“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi told the WEF. 

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