Protests over squatters’ rights lead to injuries, damage

A police officer watches over Bern's Reitschule alternative cultural centre on February 25 during clashes over squatters' rights Keystone

Clashes with police over a building they cleared of squatters escalated in the Swiss capital Bern on Saturday, with the third protest in a week resulting in several injuries and a truck being set on fire. 

This content was published on February 26, 2017 minutes and agencies/vdv

Last week, following a court order, police cleared a group of people belonging to a collective out of a house near central Bern which they had been occupying as squatters. The occupants did not go willingly, arguing that city and cantonal authorities could have found another solution to let them stay. They set up barricades and threw projectiles at police, and the resulting confrontation caused tens of thousands of Swiss francs in damages. 

In reaction to the house clearing, a few hundred protesters have regularly gathered at the Reitschule alternative cultural centre near the main train station for the past several days. After their first protest march last week resulted in damage to a house, police set up barricades to stop them from moving into the city centre, citing a desire to avoid property damage. 

On Saturday night, the violence escalated as a group of about 50 protesters set up their own barricades and set them on fire. They threw rocks, fireworks and other projectiles at police and blinded several police officers with laser lights. In total, ten members of security forces were injured in the clash. 

During the incident, a truck belonging to the Federal Railways was set on fire in a parking lot near the Bern train station, also causing damage to vehicles around it. 

Not unusual

Squatting is not unusual in Bern, with housing collectives currently occupying several empty buildings. 

Dagmar Boss of Bern City Real Estate told the 20 Minutes newspaper earlier this year that “the squatter scene has become more active in the last few months”. 

Clashes with police in the area around the Reitschule are also not uncommon. In the past two decades, local voters have weighed in several times over whether to close and re-purpose the facility, choosing to keep it as-is every time. It closed temporarily last year in the wake of a series of violent incidents but re-opened months later.  

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