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Swiss to deploy 4,500 troops to secure G-8 summit

The Swiss air force will be keeping a wary eye over proceedings in neighbouring France Keystone

The Swiss government is to call up 4,500 soldiers to help maintain security at the G-8 summit in June.

This content was published on February 13, 2003 - 13:19

The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, is to hold talks with President Bush on the first day of the meeting.

Couchepin's office confirmed the meeting with Bush a day after the government announced the mobilisation, which will be the largest ever in Switzerland for an operation of this kind.

The summit is due to take place in the French town of Evian, just across Lake Geneva from Lausanne, from June 1-3. Geneva airport will be the main transport hub for many of those attending.

The seven industrialised nations plus Russia make up the G-8, and leaders from each member country are expected to attend the summit in Evian. In addition around 20 African heads of state will participate, as part of a related summit called "New Partnership for Development".

Couchepin's spokesman, Jean-Marc Crevoisier, said the talks with President Bush had been requested by the US authorities and would focus mainly on efforts to combat terrorism.

He added that the meeting would take place on Swiss soil but that the precise location would not be revealed for security reasons.

Huge challenge

Announcing the decision to call up the troops, the Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said policing the G-8 posed an enormous challenge for Switzerland.

"The complexity of this conference, and its consequences for Switzerland, are immense," Metzler told swissinfo. "It's a challenge Switzerland has never had to face before."

She added that the summit also provided an opportunity for Switzerland to show that it was capable of providing security even when the situation was so complicated.

"And we will guarantee the security of those attending," she insisted.

Two-fold security operation

The Swiss government regards the security operation as two-fold: first the safety of the summit participants must be assured, and second possible anti-globalisation demonstrations must be controlled.

At the last G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, demonstrators clashed violently with security forces, and one protester was shot dead by Italian police.

The decision to call up the 4,500 soldiers follows concerns in Switzerland's most affected cantons - Geneva, Vaud and Valais - that their own police would not be able to cope.

A mobilisation of more than 2,000 soldiers from the Swiss army requires the approval of parliament. However, it is not expected to oppose the move.

Logistical nightmare

Despite the decision to commit the extra soldiers, policing the G-8 summit remains a logistical nightmare.

Many senior government leaders, particularly those from Africa, plan to stay in Switzerland for the duration of the summit, and travel daily across the border into France to attend meetings.

Summit organisers had apparently hoped that the Swiss authorities would ease border restrictions in order to allow heads of state to move around quickly.

But Switzerland is also faced with the problem of controlling the movement of large numbers of anti-globalisation protesters, meaning that border controls are in fact more likely to be strengthened.

"We will be responsible for the safety of all those heads of state residing in Switzerland," said Metzler. "And consequently the population around Lake Geneva can expect some restrictions."

Demonstrations

The Swiss government has indicated to France that it expects any major demonstrations to take place on French soil.

But plans by anti-globalisation protestors to begin twin marches in Geneva and the French town of Annemasse, with the aim of converging on Evian, mean that demonstrations are very likely in Switzerland too.

"The government is convinced that it is possible to have the demonstration in France," said Metzler. "After all France is the organiser of the summit, and is a member of the G-8, which Switzerland is not."

Opportunity for Switzerland

Nevertheless despite the difficulties posed by the G-8, the Swiss government still regards the event as positive for Switzerland.

The police and the defence department regard it as a good opportunity to practice cross border security with France, while diplomats at the Swiss foreign ministry see the summit as a chance to increase Switzerland's contact with the international community.

swissinfo, Imogen Foulkes

Key facts

The Swiss government has decided to mobilise 4,500 troops to secure the G-8 summit.
The security operation is expected to cost around SFr40 million in total.
The population living around Lake Geneva will face some travel restrictions during the summit.
Although the Swiss government hopes anti-globalisation demonstrations will take place on French soil, protestors are expected to gather in Switzerland too.

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