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SWITZERLAND: Police Barricade Davos to Prevent Protests

by John A. Dillon and Malini GoelForum News Daily
January 28th, 2001

The police used water cannons and steel fences to stop protesters on Saturday from getting within a mile of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos.

About 250 activists opposed to the Forum's role in shaping international trade staged a peaceful protest in Davos, marching through snowy streets and carrying banners that decried multinational corporations and the globalization of the world economy.

Meanwhile, anti-globalization activists staged demonstrations on the Swiss-Italian border to protest the decision by Swiss authorities to deny entry to hundreds on their way to Davos.

In Davos, the small band of demonstrators met with an overwhelming show of force. Hundreds of helmeted security police carried batons and tear gas guns, outnumbering the protesters and halting their march with cold blasts from water cannons.

The demonstration ended peacefully, however, unlike last year's protests when some activists broke windows of a McDonald's restaurant. This year only a few snowballs were tossed at the police barricades.

The afternoon protest was held despite a ruling by local authorities that banned street demonstrations. Officials were clearly intent on avoiding a repeat of last year's events. They halted train service from nearby towns and detained hundreds of demonstrators en route to Davos, organizers said.

"Why don't we have a right to demonstrate and express our opinion freely?" said David Bohner, who helped organize the demonstrations. "They totally exaggerated the threat (of trouble). At the same time, it's scary how basic civil rights are not valid any more."

Officials massed a small army to counter the demonstrators, temporarily transforming the luxury Alpine resort of Davos into a tightly guarded fortress. About 300 members of the Swiss Guard Corps joined hundreds of police officers from around the country to create a protective barrier around the WEF Congress Centre. Another 600 members of defense and civil protection departments were also on alert in case of trouble, officials said.

There was a report that about 1,000 activists demonstrated Saturday at Landquartthe main rail junction to Davos - where police used tear gas to break up the demonstration. Other protestors were stopped as they traveled on trains and buses to Davos from Italy, France, Germany and other parts of Switzerland, he said.

The activists who did manage to make it to Davos carried signs - "Justice, not Profits," read one - and sang protest songs, including "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the US civil rights movement.

Although they failed in their stated goal of shutting down the WEF meeting, the protesters said they wanted to raise their voices against what they said was the growing dominance of multinational corporations over the lives of poor people around the world.

"We may have to change the meaning of money," said Martin Schmid, who traveled to Davos from Zurich. He said the World Trade Organization, which sets the rules for international commerce and can override local environmental and labor laws, was established for the benefit of corporations, not the public.

Walter Weber, owner of Weber Restaurant and Bakery, said he was concerned about damage to his business from the demonstration and the roadblocks. "This is incredible," he said. "If they (the protestors) have the chance to speak to WEF, I cannot understand why they want to demonstrate," he said.

The demonstrators and the legions of journalists and cameramen who chronicled their every move endured frigid temperatures and a heavy snowfall as they trekked up the Promenade, Davos's main street. But as the protest wound down and the activists walked back toward the train station, the sun broke through the clouds and bathed the crowd in warm light, drawing one of the loudest cheers of the day.

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