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Anti-OSCE Protesters Clash With Riot Police in Switzerland

Protesters disrupted an OSCE ministerial meeting in Basel, Switzerland by throwing firecrackers and bottles at police, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Photos by Jan Müller and Simon Krieger

Basel — a Swiss city on the border with France and Germany — was in a state of emergency last week after a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Authorities shut down swathes of the city due to protests surrounding an OSCE ministerial meeting, deploying more than 3,600 soldiers and 1,000 policemen to protect the 57 foreign ministers and 1,200 delegates from across Europe who attended the gathering.

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Helicopters circled above the city, snipers were positioned on roofs, and border guard ships patrolled the Rhine. Public transit partially broke down and travel was restricted in certain areas. The OSCE — which supports arms control, human rights, freedom of the press, and fair elections — isn't as controversial as the World Trade Organization or similar groups, but the meeting stirred discontent regardless.

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Opponents of Vladimir Putin protested alongside people crusading to reform the Turkish justice system. Others were demonstrating simply because they were upset that the presence of 57 foreign ministers disrupted the daily lives of people in Basel.

A group called the "alliance against the OSCE" led the demonstration, which was sanctioned by Swiss authorities. The protest area was near the offices of Credit Suisse and UBS, a Swiss global financial services company. Police shut down an entire street — including an area with exclusive, high-end stores — during the OSCE's gala dinner.

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Around 1,000 protesters joined in the demonstration. UBS and the Credit Suisse barricaded their storefronts, and masked protesters spray-painted "Fuck the OSCE" across the doors and windows of a building that was left exposed. When riot police called over a megaphone for the protesters to disperse, some in the crowd responded by hurling bottles and firecrackers at the cops, who then fired tear and rubber bullets.

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The confrontation touched off an hour-long cat and mouse game between protesters and police in the narrow alleys of Basel's Old Town. Demonstrators gathered material to throw at police from construction sites, while the cops built barriers and shot back with rubber bullets.

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The many small groups of protesters temporarily overwhelmed the police, until the authorities surrounded the main group responsible for the unrest in front of Hirschi, an alternative nightclub. Protesters started to blend in with the partygoers, however, and the entire crowd joined together to sing an old Swiss children's song, belting out the lyrics, "Go home, go home! Right now! Go home, one slap in your face and then go to sleep, without dinner."

To everyone's surprise, the police entered their vans and drove off without arresting anyone.

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