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US closes consulates in Switzerland

Security at the US embassy in Bern has been tight since September 11, 2001 Keystone Archive

The American consulates in Zurich and Geneva have been temporarily closed following a security alert.

This content was published on February 14, 2003 - 11:40

The US embassy in Switzerland decided to shut down the consulates after being warned of possible terrorist threats.

"The US embassy has received information of a threat to American property or buildings in Switzerland," said the embassy spokesman, Bruce Armstrong.

He refused to state the precise nature of the threat.

The Zurich consulate was closed on Wednesday, while the Geneva offices were shut on Thursday. Both diplomatic representations are expected to re-open on Monday.

The embassy in Bern and the US Mission in Geneva have remained open despite the unspecified threat. The embassy has advised US citizens - of which there are 30,000 in Switzerland - to remain alert and to avoid places that Americans are known to frequent.

Armstrong said there was no connection between a possible American strike against Iraq and the closures. "This information we received about a threat just happens to come at this particular time," he told swissinfo.

A Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Friday that the closures may be linked to Saturday's planned anti-war demonstrations, although the Americans deny any link.

Swiss measures

The Swiss authorities have also encouraged Americans to watch their backs following the worldwide terrorist alert issued by Washington and London.

Hans Klaus, a spokesman for the Swiss justice ministry, told swissinfo that the federal authorities have asked the cantons to institute special security measures to protect American interests.

"We are coordinating with the cantons, who are taking all necessary measures," said Klaus. He refused though to specify what precautions had been taken so far.

Britain, the Americans' main ally in the push to attack Iraq, has so far refrained from closing any diplomatic representations. The British embassy press officer in Bern, Chritine Andina, said there were no plans to do so.

Increased security

Schools, corporations and institutions in Switzerland with ties to the United States are also reported to have increased security, after Zurich police warned of a possible terrorist threat.

Guards have been posted at international schools, and companies such as Dow Chemical and Citibank have chosen to beef up their security checks.

The US embassy has warned Americans to remain vigilant. Diplomats fear that as security is upped at official facilities, terrorists may focus on so-called softer targets.

These include locations where Americans or other foreigners congregate.

swissinfo, Scott Capper and Samantha Tonkin

Consulate facts

There are 30,000 US citizens in Switzerland.
The US embassy has advised them to be alert and to avoid places - restaurants, clubs, schools and hotels - that Americans are known to frequent.
The Swiss foreign ministry said the consulate closures may be linked to Saturday's planned anti-war demonstrations.
Guards have been posted at international schools, and US companies have beefed up their security checks.

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