Press outraged at invasion of Iraq

Criticism of the war in Iraq dominated Friday's press in Switzerland

Switzerland's media have expressed anger at the opening of hostilities against Iraq by United States-led forces.

This content was published on March 21, 2003 - 10:16

Newspapers focused on the anti-war protests that took place across Switzerland and Europe, and highlighted concerns over the breakdown in international diplomacy.

Many newspapers also criticised Swiss President Pascal Couchepin's response to the war.

They said he was more concerned with not upsetting the United States when he should have been condemning the conflict.

Switzerland's German-language papers were especially critical of the invasion.

The Zurich-based "Tages-Anzeiger" said there was no justification for the war because the United States had acted without the backing of the United Nations.

Both the "Tages-Anzeiger" and the mass-market "Blick" claimed the conflict violated international law.

Bern's "Bund" newspaper said the war in Iraq was an overreaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

French-language newspapers were generally more restrained in their criticism.

"Le Temps" pointed out that there was still a lot of uncertainty on what effects the war would have on the political situation in the Middle East and on global politics in general.

But it added that recent history had shown that fears of disaster often tended to be exaggerated.

Praising the protesters

Both French- and German-language newspapers welcomed the protests that took place across Switzerland on Thursday.

"24 Heures" said the crowds of students, totalling about 40,000 in Switzerland, showed that the younger generation had maintained hope despite general cynicism.

"These young students want to show their opposition to the madness of some of their elders," 24 Heures said on its front page.

"Who said young people were blasé and egocentric?" the paper added in a later article, charting the various protests across the country.

Le Temps said Switzerland had never witnessed such a large-scale, spontaneous protest from the "SMS generation".

Justification needed

Some papers insisted that President Bush needed to produce evidence as soon as possible to justify the invasion.

Le Temps said the US had to locate some of the weapons of mass destruction that it claims Iraq is hiding from United Nations inspectors.

The paper said removing Saddam Hussein from power would not be justification enough, without proof of him having a banned arsenal.

The Blick branded the opening strike by US-led forces a failure because Saddam had survived the attack.

Air and missile attacks on Thursday against a number of official buildings in Baghdad were said to have been directed at eliminating Saddam and his closest aides.

Le Temps added that Saddam's survival had not represented the greatest of starts for the US-led campaign.

The Bund expressed concern over the risk to civilian lives. The "liberation", it said, could cost the lives of thousands of people, used by Saddam as human shields against coalition forces.

On the fence

The German-language press criticised Swiss President Pascal Couchepin's speech denouncing the war, calling it a disappointment.

The Blick said Couchepin should have pointed out that a war without a United Nations mandate contravened international law.

The paper insisted the president's main concern was not to cause any offence.

"As students marched the streets of Switzerland to protest the war, Couchepin's main concern was to ensure he didn't upset the Americans too much," the Blick said.

"Le Matin" also believed the government's stance didn't reflect public opinion.

The Tages-Anzeiger said Couchepin's speech was too weak, describing its tone inappropriate.

The paper added that Switzerland's role in the war had to be clearly defined. Switzerland should remain neutral, with the government ceasing all weapons' trade with the United States.

The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" called on the government to demonstrate its neutrality, by seeking to limit the casualties of war through humanitarian aid.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

In brief

Swiss newspaper were critical of the war, with the German-language press calling the invasion illegitimate.

The papers praised the protesters, most of them students, who took to the streets in a number of Swiss cities and towns on Thursday.

Some papers were disappointed with Swiss President Pascal Couchepin's reaction to the first night of boming in Baghdad.

They said he was too weak and was more concerned with not upsetting the United States, when he should have been criticising the conflict.

The media also said the US-led troops must find evidence soon that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, in order to justify beginning an invasion without United Nations' approval.

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