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Army could help quell Zurich riots: politician

22 Sep 2011, 13:17

Published: 22 Sep 2011 14:16 GMT+02:00
Updated: 22 Sep 2011 13:17 GMT+02:00

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If the youth riots in Zurich continue, the Swiss army should be called on to come to the aid of the city’s police, according to a Zurich politician.

The Swiss army should provide background logistical support as well as offering protection against the rioters, FDP (Liberals) local party leader Roger Tognella said on Swiss Radio 1.

“If riots continue weekend after weekend, then there will be certain tasks for the army and the military police to take care of,” Tognella said. 

Tognella sees a potential bottleneck in the capacity of the Zurich police to fight against the increasing number of rioters arriving from Zurich suburbs and even neighbouring cantons to go on the rampage in the city. 

However, Zurich city president Corine Mauch told radio station DRS1 she was satisfied with how police and lawyers have dealt with the situation so far, describing as appropriate the tough stance taken by the Zurich justice system against the rioters.

Some 90 people were arrested last weekend after further violent clashes between youth gangs and security forces on Saturday night.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the rioters who caused damages worth between 100,000 ($113,000) and 200,000 francs, by smashing windows and damaging cars. An iron rod normally used on building sites was confiscated.

Most of the detainees are not Zurich residents and are below 25 years of age although most are Swiss nationals. 

State prosecutors submitted 20 remand applications after last weekend’s riots. Ten people are still being detained while awaiting trial. Most escaped with fines and others were released from custody for the time being.

The riots began in Zurich on September 10th after about 1,500 revellers gathered in Bellevue by the lake on Saturday night for a large party as "revenge" for what was seen as excessive force by the police in shutting down a small open-air party of about 80 people under Duttweiler bridge in the city in July, according to Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.

Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas after they claimed to have been pelted with bottles and stones when they tried to confiscate a sound system at the July party. An anonymous letter was sent by the party organisers criticising police for the level of force used to shut down a party which had not led to any complaints. 

The initiators of the unauthorised events have called for alternatives to be offered to the existing commercialised party scene, complaining they cannot afford the high cover charges and drinks prices at the city's nightspots.

The event in Bellevue escalated when infiltrated by left-wing activists wearing hoodies and scarves who police said were bent on causing havoc. Police also said about two-thirds of the party-goers ran off when the violence started.

Again in Bellevue, police reacted with rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas after about 20 people climbed on top of a tram shelter.

Stones, building materials and bottles were thrown at police and bins were set on fire. Over 100,000 francs worth of damage was caused.

Last weekend, police teams were ready when the illegal "party" started in Central near the main Zurich train station. Unlike at previous events, most of the participants this time were “riot tourists”, according to Zurich police chief Daniel Leupi. 

The last major youth riots in Zurich took place in the early 1980s. Several hundred youths gathered in front of the opera house beside the lake on May 30th 1980 and were later joined by revellers who attended a Bob Marley concert in Hallenstadion that same night.

Zurich council had pledged 60 million francs for renovation of the opera house but refused money for an autonomous youth centre (AJZ). A spiral of violence began between young city dwellers and police with several hundred injured on both sides resulting in millions of francs worth of damages. 

As a result of the recent riots, Swiss politicians have raised questions about the ready accessibility of alcohol, increase in binge drinking and public transport system which runs through the night.

Ghettoisation and social marginalisation are not seen to be as bad in Zurich as in other European cities such as London and Paris, which have also recently experienced riots, although there is an underclass living in the Zurich suburbs like in any big urban area, Zurich police chief Leupi told Tages-Anzeiger.

Leupi said he is ready to engage with the rioters when they show they are ready for dialogue.

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