Mass protests in Switzerland against war

Large crowds took part in anti-war protests across Switzerland

Tens of thousands of students have taken to the streets of Switzerland to voice their opposition to the United States-led war against Iraq.

This content was published on March 20, 2003 - 20:24

Around 40,000 students joined protests in cities such as Zurich, Bern and Geneva to demand the withdrawal of US and coalition troops from the region.

The capital, Bern, saw the biggest protests with around 10,000 people taking part.

Students lay on the ground for three minutes in front of the US embassy to symbolise the victims of war.

Some demonstrators showered police officers with stones, bottles and tomatoes. Others tried to climb the barrier in front of the US embassy.

Protesters also staged a peaceful sit-in outside the British embassy.

Demonstrators at the Swiss parliament demanded that the government ban military aircraft from flying over Swiss airspace. They also called on the government to halt arms sales to countries involved in the conflict.

Zurich traffic paralysed

Zurich's cars and trams were brought to a halt for much of the morning and early afternoon as up to 4,000 young protesters took part in a march through the centre of the city.

The demonstration was generally peaceful, apart from some minor vandalism at the stock exchange, where a small group of protestors hurled metal bins and pieces of concrete.

Their actions drew disapproving whistles from the majority of the crowd, and later two women draped with peace flags proceeded to clean up the damage left by their fellow demonstrators.

Aside from peace flags, many of the banners and t-shirts on display were explicit in their condemnation of President Bush.

Messages denouncing the Iraqi regime were in the minority, although one sign criticised "Sad-damn Hussein" for "sacrificing his people for the sake of his own power".

Few in the crowd were clinging to the optimism of youth when asked if their actions could have any effect on the war itself.

"We know that we can't stop the war," one schoolboy told swissinfo, "but at least we can show that there is no popular support for it."

No difference

"We've done all we can to get the attention of the world's politicians," added a colleague, "but the US government does whatever it wants to do. It's nice to see all these people here, but it won't make any difference."

One of the megaphone-carrying protest leaders insisted otherwise.

"We are fighting this war, this stupid war," she told swissinfo. "We are telling the imperialist nations like the United States and Great Britain that they must get out of Iraq."

Thursday's rapid response to the start of hostilities in Iraq was also used to spread the word of a planned national protest in Bern on Saturday, with leaflets being distributed along the march route.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom and Karin Kamp

War protests

Around 40,000 students joined protests in cities across the country.

The largest demonstration was held in Bern, where a national show of solidarity against the war is planned for Saturday.

The protests were largely peaceful, but police were pelted with stones and bottles outside the US embassy in Bern.

Demonstrators called for a ban on coalition aircraft using Swiss airspace and the cessation of arms sales to countries involved in the conflict.

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