Davos in lockdown as World Economic Forum gets underway

Swiss police officers control the area at the Davos Congress Centre ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 19, 2016.
Swiss police officers control the area at the Davos Congress Centre ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 19, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Armed members of the Swiss Police watching from the roof of the Hotel Davos ahead of the World Economic Forum.
Armed members of the Swiss Police watching from the roof of the Hotel Davos ahead of the World Economic Forum. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - The tiny Alpine town of Davos is in a lockdown this week for the World Economic Forum (WEF), with 42km of fencing and watchtowers erected and a no-fly zone that prevents flights from coming within a 40km radius of the town without prior authorisation.

As delegates arrive for the annual meeting, they are faced with a stark reminder of the security risks: At the congress centre that serves as the hub for events, heavy concrete barriers and new watchtowers with armed guards line the roads, Bloomberg reported. These are in addition to the security checkpoints inside the building that have been in place for several years, said the report.

The Swiss Air Force is conducting surveillance flights over the town using helicopters, prop planes and fighter jets, USA Today reported, quoting the Swiss government. Police flank the town's main street while cameras atop buildings scan for anything amiss.

 

Some 3,000 military personnel will be protecting 2,500 of the world's most influential government, business and social leaders at the opening on Wednesday (Jan 20). The government leaders include US Secretary of State John Kerry, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

After a terror attack in France last November that left 17 people dead and put Europe on edge, the Swiss government's US$9 million (S$13 million) security programme for the five-day WEF conference - while subtle, polite and executed with a smile - is also robust and visible, said USA Today.

To enter the restricted zone around the Congress Centre, government leaders, CEOs and media who pass through one of three entrances must undergo airport-level security screening that includes bag X-ray and metal detectors. Event staff were required to register in advance so that the military could conduct background checks on everyone who attends the conference, according to the newspaper.

Inside the zone, access is defined in a hierarchy of high-tech, colour-coded badges. Orange badges grant access to public sessions while white passes give access to private events. To gain access to rooms within the conference hall, participants must swipe their badges over a device that brings up a full dossier, including a photograph, for staff to review, said the report.

USA Today, quoting the Swiss military, said the Parliament gives special approval through a federal decree to cover most of the security costs and deploy the country's armed forces to protect transportation, the two roads that lead to Davos, water supplies, electricity and airspace.

The Swiss government will also cover 80 per cent of the costs in the event of an "extraordinary" incident including terrorist attacks and assassination attacks, said the report.