DAVOS, Switzerland - The Swiss sharply criticized Sunday what was described as a heavy-handed police crackdown on an anti-globalization demonstration Saturday in Davos, and similar protests in Zurich and other cities.
"Police mobilization like in a dictatorship" ran the headline in the German-language weekly Sonntagsblick, the day after used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a demonstration in Zurich, and imposed tight security to prevent protests in Davos.
A Sunday newspaper, Sonntagszeitung, wrote: "The spirit of Davos was suffocated in teargas" and the Swiss police "trampled on basic rights."
Police in riot gear stand in a line across the tracks at the station of Landquart, the city in the flatlands below Davos. Some 300 demonstrators who had been stopped from heading to Davos briefly blocked tracks and a local highway in Landquart. REUTERS/Siggi Bucher
For several commentators, Switzerland's image had suffered a blow, when police prevented even a European Parliament member, Roseline Vachetta, from traveling to Davos, an up-market ski resort hosting the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Among intellectuals, sociologist Jean Ziegler denounced in an open letter to the government "the shameful face of the Swiss," while the socialists took an even harder line.
"I wouldn't have believed that possible in Switzerland. The police have trampled on state law," Franco Cavalli, head of the Socialist Party in parliament, said in an interview in Sonntagsblick.
Warning there would be "political consequences" to pay in parliament, Cavalli said he wanted a parliamentary investigation of the police attitude launched.
He said he also will insist that the army would no longer be mobilized for public demonstrations, such as was done for the six-day WEF summit that opened here Thursday.
The police defended its actions, saying they used "moderate, exemplary intervention."
Several government officials backed the police, saying that the measures were needed to protect the thousands of top political and business leaders at the summit.
Police officers use teargas to disperse protesters from reaching Davos to disrupt the World Economic Forum in Zurich's main station, Saturday Jan. 27, 2001. (AP Photo/Franco Greco)
However, in a Sonntagsblick editorial, Frank Meyer blamed politicians: "The police would not have been able to play this game, if politicians respectful of democracy and their responsibilities had taken things in hand."
Meyer said "the police force coup had inflicted more damage on the global salon" of WEF founder Klaus Schwab than the anti-globalization protestors had dreamed of with their demonstrations.
He criticized the "provincialism" of the authorities and police in the eastern Swiss canton Grisons, who had halted train service to Davos Saturday.
The French-language newspaper Dimanche.ch said that the canton authorities, frustrated by too much quiet in their snowy Alps, "wanted to break out of it" and make themselves important.
"If it was damage to private party that one wanted to spare, I wonder: 3,000 men (police and army) during five days, that makes 10 million Swiss francs (six million euros, 5.5 million dollars), without counting additional expenses," wrote editorialist Gerard Delanoye.
Financier George Soros, a frequent participant at the WEF summits in the Swiss ski resort, said in an interview with French newspaper Le Matin: "In becoming increasingly harsher, the security measures risk harming the spirit of Davos, and could dissuade participants from returning there, where the calm is a strength of the world forum."
A Swiss police officer uses his straw riot shield to push away anti-globalization protesters during a demonstration against the World Economy Forum in Davos on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2001. Despite a local ban on protests, about 150 demonstrators wearing white plastic masks were surrounded by police about a kilometer (half a mile) from the congress center. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
The Swiss socialist president, Moritz Leuenberger, who visited the WEF summit and a counter-forum, "Public Eye on Davos," took a moderate line.
In a text published in Sonntagszeitung, he wrote: "We must guarantee, as best we can, the WEF presence. Especially in the face of threats saying it should disappear."
As for any lawsuits alleging excessive use of force by authorities, he said, "independent courts" exist in Switzerland to deal with them.