Swiss image suffers over security operation in Davos

Critics say police operations in Davos have tarnished the country's image

Switzerland's international image could be damaged by the authorities' heavy-handed approach to protests surrounding the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, according to critics of the weekend's police action.

This content was published on January 29, 2001 minutes

Newspaper editorials on Monday echoed the criticisms made by non-governmental organisations of the handling of protests by opponents of globalisation.

Police and army units sealed off Davos at the weekend, and used water cannon to drive back about 300 protestors who had managed to reach the town.

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.

A commentary in the French-language paper, "La Liberté", accused the forces of law and order of "exceeding the limits of the acceptable" by turning Davos into a battleground.

The German-language "Tages Anzeiger" blamed both sides. It spoke of "property deliberately destroyed on the one hand, and freedom of opinion deliberately suppressed on the other".

Other newspapers questioned whether Switzerland would be able to continue hosting the summit. The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" criticised the security forces for turning Davos into "an Alpine fortress" and referred to the "high cost" of staging the annual event.

The security operation is estimated to have cost the Swiss taxpayer 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.

The paper said the WEF was placing ever-higher demands on not just the local, but also the national police force.

On Sunday, 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 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.

Maillard told delegates at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, that he was "shocked and ashamed" at what had happened in Davos. "Newspapers around the world have shown images portraying a Switzerland that is barricaded, closed and brutal," Maillard said.


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