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27 Feb, 2017 15:49

Teargas & water cannons: Police clash with activists protesting squatters eviction in Swiss city

Teargas & water cannons: Police clash with activists protesting squatters eviction in Swiss city

Several hundred people gathered in the unauthorized protest in Bern over the weekend, which descended into violence as hooded youth set cars on fire. Police used teargas and deployed water cannons to disperse the crowd. 

Hundreds of people took part in the protest organized by Bern-based group RaumRaub in the city’s Schutzenmatte area on Saturday, Bern police said in a statement

The protest began at around 8:40pm local time. “To prevent the demonstration from going further to the city center and reduce material damage, the emergency services blocked the access routes around the Schutzenmatte,” the police said.

Shortly afterwards, security forces were attacked with stones and firecrackers and were blinded with laser beams, according to the police statement. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.

The protesters set up barricades, set a van on fire, and damaged several cars. The crowd dispersed at around 10:30pm, with some demonstrators going back to the Reitschule art center, where the rally started.

Ten policemen were injured, and one presumed protester was taken to the hospital. Six people were detained and interviewed “for further clarification,” the statement also said.

‘War against the police’

On Wednesday morning, a local court order authorized police to evict a group of squatters occupying a building located near Bern’s city center.

The building belonging to the federal construction office had been occupied for six months. 

Five policemen were injured during the evacuation. Occupiers attacked officers with fireworks, paint, and other objects, which was described as “absolutely unacceptable” by the Association of Swiss Police Officers, according to 20 Minuten.

Police used rubber bullets to respond to the attacks.

President of Bern’s Police Union Adrian Wuethrich described the latest developments as “a war against police,” Swiss newspaper Blick reported.

“This is tragic. I doubt that demonstrators are worried about politics. They wage war against the police. This is new for Bern,” Wuethrich said.

Wuethrich believes that Bern police are well prepared and will easily deal with protesters if need be. The worrying thing is that the violence seen throughout the week was planned.

Punishment for protesters engaging in attacks against police should be toughened, Wuethrich concluded, adding that police “should not become the target” for demonstrators.

On Wednesday evening, the first protest occurred, with police taking no active measures to prevent the demonstration which resulted in damage worth tens of thousands of francs, the Swedish newspaper reported.

On Friday evening, police dispersed another unauthorized protest with water cannons and teargas.

The house at Effingerstrasse 29 – known as Effy29 among activists – is not the only one illegally occupied in Bern. The number of squatters seems to have risen over recent months due to growing rent costs in Switzerland’s de facto capital, Neue Burcher Zeitung reported

“We don’t feel like paying ever growing rent. That’s why we have decided to live as a community in solidarity instead of living isolated in one-bedroom apartments,” three activists said in a YouTube video published in December.