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Switzerland steps up security after Zug massacre

Members of the police and security forces check visitors to the parliament in Bern

(Keystone)

Police patrolled the parliament building in Bern on Friday, and visitors learned that beginning Monday, they must pass through metal detectors at the entrance, as Switzerland undertakes new security measures following Thursday's massacre at the regional parliament building in Zug.

Switzerland is struggling to come to terms with the killings, which occurred when a man identified as Friedrich Leibacher, 57, of canton Zurich, opened fire during a session of the regional assembly, killing 14 people and leaving 14 hospitalised, according to police, who said the gunman also killed himself.

The attack marked the first time a Swiss politician had been killed in more than 100 years, authorities said, and it has triggered a debate regarding security in public buildings and the safety of politicians throughout the country. Three government members and 11 members of the regional parliament were killed, police said.

Rigorous identity and baggage checks were introduced and both parliamentarians and visitors have been asked to wear badges. Visitors have also been asked to leave their personal belongings outside the building.

In addition, cantonal authorities have introduced more controls as a result of the attack. Police will from now on patrol the Zurich town hall during sessions of the cantonal parliament. Similar steps have been taken in Thurgau.

In St Gallen, a public debate about security controls has been planned, and a security review is also underway Appenzell Innerrhoden.

Parliament building open

Peter Hess, speaker of the National House of Representatives, said there was no cause for alarm. He anticipated that the parliament building in the Swiss capital would stay relatively open in the long-term, since it is a public building.

"We'll have to do everything possible to maintain the principle of accessability of politicians and their institutions to the general public," said Hess. "It's a tradition in Switzerland, and it allows us to create the confidence necessary for our democracy."

Oswald Sigg, spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said the circumstances of the attack should be clarified before permanent steps to tighten security are taken.

"On the whole, security measures have been proven to be adequate," he said.

Some Swiss politicians have spoken out against the introduction of excessive security measures. The Justice Minister, Ruth Metzler, warned against panic stricken measures, saying she did not want to live in a 'police state'. State security measures had been under review for a year, she said.

Markus Notter, head of the cantonal government in canton Zurich, said the Swiss government valued its accessibility to citizens. "All parliament buildings are open, and we are proud of that. That is our political culture," he said.

Tighter weapon controls

The shooting in Zug has called into question legislation governing the private ownership of arms in Switzerland. According to the information service of the High Command, by Swiss army personnel currently privately own around 420,000 weapons.

Officers, non-commissioned officers and some civil servants also own their own pistols.

"Soldiers are ordered to keep arms and ammunition in a safe place, " says Philippe Zahno, spokesman for the High Command. But the occasional accident did occur, he added.

"It happens three to four times a year that an army weapon is misused," he said.

But Sigg said he did not believe that arms ownership lay at the root of attack. "The cause of the attack lies elsewhere," he said.

Bus driver row

An official investigation into the attack has been opened. The motive of the gunman apparently was related to a row with a bus driver two years ago, authorities said.

During the shootings, Leibacher also threw an explosive device into the parliament chamber, police said.

Leibacher left behind a letter talking about a "day of rage against the Zug mafia." Authorities said he was convicted in 1970 of a string of offences. He was subsequently interned in a psychiatric clinic.

In 1998, Leibacher argued with a bus driver, and threatened the man with a handgun, an incident which set off a long series of legal cases, all of which Leibacher lost, authorities said.

Attack on democratic institutions

The Swiss President, Moritz Leuenberger, expressed his sorrow and disbelief at the attack. He attended a memorial service in Zug after the massacre.

"This attack is not just an attack on people, but an attack on our democratic institutions," he said.

"We are proud to be a country in which even the highest-ranking politicians can move about freely among their equals - the people - without security measures," said Leuenberger.

swissinfo with agencies


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