Protesters take to the streets against Davos Forum

Protesters brandished banners calling Switzerland a police state Keystone

Around a thousand people have protested in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Saturday against the World Economic Forum (WEF), which is held annually at the ski resort, Davos.

This content was published on February 3, 2001 - 17:06

The demonstrators condemned the security operation mounted during the January summit, branding Switzerland a "police state". They called for the right of freedom of expression and movement to be upheld in future.

The anti-globalisation protesters held up banners calling for an end to the "Davos spirit" and a "WEF with demos or no WEF".

The police said the demonstration was peaceful. Swiss authorities gave the protest the go-ahead after an anti-World Trade Organisation group, which was behind Saturday's demonstration, assured them that there would be no violence.

One week ago, police and army units sealed off Davos and used water cannon to drive back about 300 anti-globalisation protestors who had managed to reach the town where business and political leaders had gathered.

Violent protests also spilled over to other towns. Police in Zurich fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who rampaged through the city, setting fire to cars and damaging buildings.

Some non-governmental organisations said Switzerland's international image could be damaged by the authorities' heavy-handed approach to protests surrounding the Forum.

The security operation is estimated to have cost Swiss taxpayers about SFr5 million ($3 million). It is not yet clear what proportion of the bill will be borne by the federal government and the cantonal authorities in Graubünden.

One NGO, the Berne Declaration, said it would be taking legal action against the authorities for the "heavy-handed" police action.

But the government rejected criticism over the handling of the protests. The Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, said the outbreak of violence in Zurich proved that the security operation had been justified.

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, also defended the authorities' actions, saying the aim of certain protestors was not dialogue, but disruption.

But a Swiss parliament member, Pierre-Yves Maillard, was strongly critical of the government's position, alleging that Switzerland's international image had been tarnished by the forceful suppression of protests.

swissinfo with agencies

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