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Zug parliament reassembles after gun massacre

The parliament in Zug remained closed for two months after the massacre on September 27 Keystone Archive

The Zug cantonal parliament is meeting on Thursday for its first formal session since the September 27 massacre at the parliament building.

This content was published on November 29, 2001 - 07:51

Two months ago, a gunman walked into the parliament building and shot dead 14 people before turning the gun on himself.

Hanspeter Hausheer, a member of the cantonal parliament, told swissinfo there is likely to be a "sense of uneasiness and anxiety" as the assembly gets underway.

"In my case, I will meet some members for the first time since this terrible thing happened, and certainly there will be a lot of emotions...which makes it a little bit difficult to go there," he said.

Hausheer, who juggles his responsibilities as local parliamentarian with a career as a senior economist at UBS Warburg, saw the lone gunman - later identified as 57-year-old Friedrich Leibacher from Zurich - enter the parliament building.

Though he escaped injury himself, 14 of Hausheer's colleagues, including three members of the government, were shot dead on the floor of the debating chamber.

At the request of local MPs, the new parliamentary session will not reconvene in the same building. A temporary chamber has been set up at the cantonal police headquarters, while a new hall is constructed.

"It's very important that we're going there," Hausheer said, "because I wouldn't be able to go back to the old room where it happened."

"We had the possibility of going back to look at the room, but I personally wasn't able to go there because the memories are still too great for that," he added.

Shockwaves still felt

Swiss political analyst Michel Walter told swissinfo the shockwaves following the Zug massacre were still being felt two months after the event.

"As to local politics, certainly the emotion in Zug - but also in other Swiss cantons - has been felt and everybody when entering a parliament building still thinks about the tragic events," Walter said.

"But I believe that the weight of local politics in Switzerland is so big that little by little things will return to some kind of normality," he added.

Hausheer says his daily life has "returned to normal", but the memory of the attack has not yet faded.

"If I meet colleagues who were there as well, then the topic of discussion is always the same," he said.

Security stepped up

Security was stepped up at local parliament buildings across the country in the wake of the attack.

At the same time, tighter security measures were also introduced inside the federal parliament building in the Swiss capital, Bern.

Walter believes the increased security is "permanent", but points out that police protection of public officials in Switzerland remains "extremely limited".

"For example in the summer, when the Swiss cabinet eats on the terrace of a well-known restaurant in Bern, you could just go to this terrace and throw a bomb...." Walter told swissinfo.

Hausheer says security will be tighter than ever during the upcoming parliamentary session, but denies local politicians are any more at risk than they were prior to the attack.

"I think we will slowly go back to a normal security level by next year. But certain things will change," he said.

In a direct response to the massacre, Zug parliamentarians have already proposed the idea of appointing an independent ombudsman to deal with complaints made by local citizens who feel they have been badly treated by local government.

Zug police officials revealed the gunman had issued complaints to local transport and justice department figures prior to the attack.

He also filed suits at every level of the Swiss legal system, including the Supreme Court. All his cases were dismissed.

"The ombudsman would mean that people [who feel aggrieved by parliament] would have a place where they can go and somebody they can speak to," Hausheer said.

Business as usual

Zug parliamentarians say it will be business as usual on Thursday morning. The only alteration to the normal political agenda will be the observance of a minute's silence at the start of the session in memory of those who lost their lives in the attack.

Hausheer says he is "convinced" his colleagues will quickly focus on the daily business of political debate and decision-making.

"I have already had one meeting of the finance commission and there we talked about the event for a quarter of an hour, and then we were back to talking about policy."

Eight weeks after tragedy struck the centre of Zug's political community, Hausheer says the events of September 27 have brought local people closer together than ever before.

"This is something I feel deeply when I see people on the streets who know me, and it has helped a lot."

by Ramsey Zarifeh

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