DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Anti-capitalist protesters threw bottles at riot police on Saturday and officers responded with water cannon as a small demonstration on the final day of the World Economic Forum briefly turned violent.
The clash came after a group of about 100 mainly young, local protesters marched through the chic Swiss ski resort of Davos and gathered near the railway station, some distance from the conference center hosting the Forum.
It was the second episode of violence in Davos this week. Swiss anarchists claimed responsibility for a small explosion that broke windows and shook a hotel on Thursday where executives were meeting. Nobody was hurt in that incident.
Waving banners saying “Down with Capitalism” and “Stop Screwing Us on Salaries”, Saturday’s demonstrators marched along an approved snow-covered route taking them past the outer perimeter of the WEF’s elite meeting.
Organized by local socialists and Greens, the marchers complained that Davos, favored by top bankers, businessmen and politicians, had little to show for its 41 years of meetings.
“PAT EACH OTHER ON THE BACK”
“They come up here to do business, drink, eat and pat each other on the back,” said Karin Stiffner, a 39-year-old housewife in the march. “I don’t think there’s any interest in helping common people. It would just reduce their profits.”
As the protesters wound along the snow-bound road past the WEF congress center in bright sunshine, some threw snowballs at police and one dropped his trousers.
Seven trucks full of police in riot gear kept a close eye on the demonstrators but did not intervene until the clashes at the town’s railway station at the end of the march.
Cantonal police spokesman Thomas Hobi said police stopped a train heading out of Davos for 30 minutes, searched protesters and checked identities.
“There were things damaged during the demonstration so we stopped the train…Those who were involved were taken for questioning to the police station.”
Topics such as the euro zone debt crisis and reducing social inequality and promoting green development have topped the agenda at this week’s exclusive WEF, whose official slogan proclaims that it is “committed to improving the state of the world” and whose delegates can pay thousands of dollars to come.
As WEF delegates relaxed inside the conference center over a lunch of Norwegian lobster, reindeer and fjord trout on Saturday, the protesters said they had lost touch with reality.
“These representatives talk big but nothing happens and we don’t benefit,” said school student Bettina Leibundgut, 18. “We need to give the signal that something’s got to happen.”
Davos residents, who can make up to a quarter of their entire annual sales during the Forum, had little sympathy.
“It’s best to just ignore them,” said Derungs Pirmin, who lives in the village. “They’re just young leftists who want attention. The WEF is important for our jobs.”
The number of protesters was tiny compared with the thousands who have protested at past G8 summits and small by comparison with the 2,500 delegates attending the Forum.
Protesters said Davos’s remote location in the mountains, more than two hours’ drive from Zurich, and the police habit of maintaining discreet roadblocks on the routes to it, militated against a large turnout.