Archive for Monday, January 29, 2001

Authorities clean up after forum protests

January 29, 2001

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— Switzerland counted the cost Sunday of mayhem unleashed by anti-globalization protesters outraged at being the target of the country's biggest security operation since World War II.

As political controversy mounted over whether police themselves were to blame for Saturday night's violence, newspaper commentaries likened Switzerland to a dictatorship for banning demonstrations against the World Economic Forum meeting.

Demonstrators gathered peacefully Sunday afternoon in Zurich the scene of pitched battles late Saturday between riot police, firing tear gas and water cannons, and protesters who were prevented from reaching the meeting in the Alpine resort of Davos, about 90 miles away.

Police arrested 121 people mostly Swiss and German from a mob of 1,000 militants "intent on violence," Esther Maurer, president of the Zurich police department, told a news conference. She said the level of violence had rarely been witnessed in the Swiss financial capital.

Two policemen were injured by stones and one soldier was trampled to the ground and his weapons stolen. Maurer said the fact that all police were clad in full riot gear prevented a higher casualty toll.

Authorities said the damage ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hundreds of passengers were trapped in Zurich's main railway station many of them feeling the effects of tear gas aimed at demonstrators. Prevented from occupying the station and reaching the nearby Bahnhofstrasse one of the world's most exclusive shopping streets protesters then went on a rampage in downtown Zurich. They set fire to cars, smashed windows and spray-painted buildings.

Swiss Sunday newspapers largely blamed the authorities.

"Police methods just like a dictatorship," headlined the tabloid SonntagsBlick.

"The spirit of Davos suffocated in tear gas," said the respected SonntagsZeitung, in reference to the Alpine meeting's atmosphere, credited with forging groundbreaking political accords and multibillion dollar economic deals over the years.

Center and right-wing parties defended the massive security operation as necessary to protect the world's elite and to ensure that Switzerland hosts the prestigious Davos conference in years to come.

"The freedom of the demonstrators stops when they endanger the freedom of other people," said Peter Aliesch, a local government leader in the state of Graubuenden who ordered the ban on demonstrations.

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