Swiss Election Sparks Riots and Racism

Harry de Quetteville, AP, October 15, 2007

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Clashes erupted in the capital Berne after protesters tried to block a march by the SVP party

But a week before a general election, the political battle has become all too direct—complete with tear gas, burning barricades and street battles between police and anti-racism campaigners.

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The descent into violence last week came as Switzerland’s most powerful party, the Right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), marched into the city centre to hold a rally.

Protesters blocked the route. They blame a handful of yobs for hijacking their peaceful demonstration.

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“There are racist sentiments in Switzerland,” said Daniele Jenni, a Green party member in Berne’s city parliament. “It is not the absolute majority of people but it is there.”

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The final surveys before the Oct 21 election suggest that the SVP—which won the 2003 vote with 27 per cent—will improve on its position next weekend.

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“Monsieur Blocher [Christoph Blocher, head of the SVP] is trying to do something,” said Rita Musy, an assistant at a luxury jewellers in Berne. “There are waves of people coming from outside. It’s appalling. No one needs that.”

In the past it has claimed that the black sheep on its posters is nothing to do with race. However, pointing out that the foreign nationals who make up 20 per cent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million population account for 70 per cent of its prison population is a successful tactic for the SVP and its leader, Christoph Blocher.

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Outside her shop, in front of the glittering displays of Switzerland’s iconic watches, sat a Roma family, a mother and two small children, hands outstretched.

“Of course it’s bad for business,” said Ms Musy. “In Switzerland we have many poor people, but you’ll never see Swiss people begging on the street like that. Never.”

For Switzerland’s immigrants, however, the ever growing popularity of the SVP is a reflection of rising and dangerously open racism.

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