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Thousands of Palestinian supporters demonstrate in Bern

Despite fears that the demonstration could turn violent, it ended peacefully.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have taken to the streets of the capital, Bern, to protest against continuing violence in the Occupied Territories.

The demonstration, which was organised at short notice by peace groups and members of Switzerland’s Palestinian community, attracted far greater numbers than expected. Organisers originally anticipated that around 1,000 people would attend, but Bern police said the figure was closer to 10,000.

The demonstration started at the city’s Kornhausplatz, where groups carrying shocking pictures of the victims of the violence began a slow march to the Swiss parliament.

Emotions were running high as the crowds approached the square in front of the parliament, and the chants of “Israel is a murderer” became louder.

Swiss ties with Israel

But as the demonstrators took their places in front of the speakers’ platform the atmosphere was fairly calm.

Speaker after speaker urged a peaceful solution to the conflict, and condemned both the Palestinian suicide bombers, and the Israeli military.

But the most rousing applause was reserved for Green member of parliament Anne-Catherine Menétrey, who called on the Swiss government to end Switzerland’s trade and military ties with Israel.

Franco Cavalli, the leader of the Social Democrat’s parliamentary group, also got enthusiastic cheers when he demanded the resignation of the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

But an ugly note was sounded when a member of an Israeli peace group tried to address the crowd. Despite pleas in German, French and Arabic from the demonstration’s organisers, the speaker was booed from the stage without being able to make his speech.

Peaceful end

Despite fears that the demonstration could turn violent, it ended peacefully. Bern police, who were on standby both in the city centre and outside the Israeli embassy, remained in the background.

The demonstration finished with a minute’s silence for all the victims of the violence, followed by the singing of Palestinian songs. After that, the demonstrators headed quietly home.

Elsewhere in Europe there were more demonstrations with 10,000 protestors taking to the streets of the Italian capital, Rome. Smaller protests took place in Naples and Milan.

Parisian police said 18,000 people filled the streets of the French capital carrying Palestinian flags and pro-Palestinian banners.

In Germany there were demonstrations in Dortmund and Bonn, all of which were peaceful.

by Imogen Foulkes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR