Violence flares at anti-globalisation protest in Switzerland
DAVOS, Switzerland - Thousands of anti-globalisation demonstrators have braved a stiff security cordon to confront world leaders at a Swiss mountain resort and denounce a threatened US attack on Iraq.
But hundreds more protesters were blocked yesterday at controversial police checkpoints outside Davos, the Swiss ski resort where movers and shakers from business and politics flock to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.
Many later regrouped at a regional railway junction in nearby Landquart and clashed with police. A police spokesman said officers used tear gas and water cannon on the crowd.
Fresh violence broke out when more than 1,000 demonstrators descended on the capital of Berne on Saturday night. Police again turned tear gas and water cannon on protesters, many of them masked, who smashed shop windows.
In Davos, more than 2,000 demonstrators, many with painted faces and carnival-style costumes, hung up banners with slogans such as "No Business over Dead Bodies", "Leave Iraq in peace, stop the Bush warriors" and "Against the terror of 'free' markets".
In past years the Forum has often attracted protests from opponents who see it as an elitist gathering, concerned more with making money than addressing the ills of the world.
"These are just rich bastards who come up to Davos for four days, talk about the world's problems for half a day and talk about ways to get even richer for the rest," said one protester, asking not to be named.
"I came from Berlin to take part, to demonstrate against this new robber baron capitalism, this ultra-imperialist policy in which the world's most powerful countries unite to loot countries of the resources they need -- for example oil in Iraq -- and then use them to pay for the war and destruction," added Jochen Schemetzko, a theatre director.
Swiss officials have mounted an unprecedented security clampdown -- including fighter jets on patrol overhead ready to shoot down intruding aircraft -- to protect delegates and prevent an approved demonstration from turning violent.
Several helicopters circled over the Davos conference centre, which was surrounded by barricades and riot police.
Earlier, hundreds of activists refused to get off the train at the transit station of Fideris and pass through a security gauntlet they said was unacceptable in a democratic society.
Police at times abandoned the checkpoint in favour of boarding trains to check passengers' bags, creating a stop-and-start flow of protesters to Davos.
Many would-be marchers never made it to Davos when officers refused to board what they thought to be overfilled trains, which sat stalled as activists refused to disembark.
Hundreds of police in riot gear and about 300 troops are deployed in and around the chic mountain town for the summit. Troops in neighbouring Germany are on standby in case of need, police sources said.
The security measures will cost the Swiss authorities some NZ$18.2million, about $9,000 for each of the 2,000 leaders of finance, business and politics due to attend.
More than 20 heads of state or government are attending the gathering, mingling with heads of some of the world's top companies. US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Davos earlier on Saturday.
The WEF meeting comes amid mounting international tension over Iraq, with United Nations weapons inspectors due to report to the Security Council on January 27 on their search for Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
The United States says Iraq is harbouring such weapons and has threatened war if President Saddam Hussein fails to disarm.
Demonstrations have been allowed in Davos this year after the government came in for heavy criticism from both civil rights groups and the media for banning protests in 2001, when riots erupted in other Swiss cities. In 2002, the meeting was held in New York.
- REUTERS (via NZ Herald)