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Swiss Neighbors Upset by Coming G8 Summit in France - 2003-05-28

The three-day G8 meeting of leaders of the world's main industrialized nations - France, the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia - begins Sunday in the French lakeside town of Evian, famous for its mineral waters. But the summit is causing major upheavals in Swiss towns just across the border from Evian.

In the coming days many of the 400,000 residents of Geneva who have the chance to get out of the city will do so. Those who stay are preparing for discomfort and disruption of their normally well-ordered lives.

And there is resentment at the upheaval, because people do not see why their routine should be upset by an event across the border, in which Switzerland has no say or role to play.

The Geneva authorities and the public, especially shopkeepers, are afraid that a planned protest march on Sunday by an expected 50,000 or more anti-G8 demonstrators could turn violent.

Luxury stores and banks in the city center have already boarded up their doors and windows. Even though they will lose money, some shops will simply shut down.

Mail deliveries are being suspended, cash machines emptied, and public transport severely curtailed. Even work on a major new tram line is being halted to stop protesters grabbing tools or equipment to use as battering-rams or missiles.

Security at Geneva airport will be at a maximum, since most of the G8 participants will fly into Geneva and then be flown by helicopter to Evian, 45 kilometers away. All sailing has been forbidden on Lake Geneva, which the resort town overlooks, and French and Swiss military planes will enforce a no-fly zone over and around the lake. Pilotless drone aircraft will provide extra surveillance.

Police and army personnel have been drafted from other parts of Switzerland, and the total of 12,000 security men on duty on the Swiss side of the frontier will include up to 1,000 German riot police with water cannon.

This reliance on outside reinforcements prompted one disgusted columnist in Geneva's leading daily, Le Temps, to comment that in this and other ways Geneva, and Switzerland as a whole, are demonstrating their inability to cope with events of this kind. The writer also accused the authorities of simply creating an atmosphere of panic.

So-called alternative or anti-capitalist villages are being set up to house the protesters, who will include some from Germany and other neighboring countries, in makeshift accommodation. Protest bonfires will blaze along the lakeshore, and most frontier crossing points will be shut.

On the opposite side of the lake from Evian is the Swiss town of Lausanne, whose luxury hotels will house African and other Third World leaders invited by the G8 for the summit.

The authorities are on the alert for any attempt by the protesters to disrupt the ferry service due to shuttle this contingent across the lake from Lausanne to Evian.

On the eve of the summit, Swiss President Pascal Couchepin is giving a lavish reception for the guests. He will be meeting U.S. President George W. Bush in one of several bilateral talks Mr. Bush is due to hold.

Agreements have been signed between the protest groups and the various local authorities to try to guarantee the demonstrations are nonviolent, but Swiss authorities are not taking any chances.