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,
"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
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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