Radicals rampage through normally tranquil Zurich centre

GENEVA (AFP) - Police fired tear gas and a water cannon in central Zurich late Friday to disperse some 200 masked demonstrators who attacked officers and torched cars, trees and garbage bins during an anti-capitalism protest.

The rioters, many of them armed with iron bars, threw rocks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police in a rampage that caused hundreds of thousands of euros worth of damage. Police blamed left-wing radicals for the violence.

The crowd gathered around 10pm, hurling rocks at police officers, setting a police vehicle on fire and stealing law enforcement equipment before reinforcements arrived, local police said in a statement.

The protesters started fires, shattered storefronts and also the window of a crowded restaurant, sending some terrified diners fleeing to the basement.

“We don’t want to leave our city to freeholders, to money, to capitalists or public-private-partnership-nations or any other oppressing authorities,” the activists wrote on the website Indymedia.

“We want a city which is allowed to live, be loud, chaotic and exiting.”

Seven officers were injured as a result of the unrest before police managed to restore order around midnight.

“Many of them were armed with iron bars, some wore masks and gas masks and protective clothing,” the police said in a statement.

Four men – two Swiss, and nationals of Britain and Liechtenstein – have been arrested on suspicion of participating in the unrest.

Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, is a major financial hub hosting numerous banking giants and is one of Europe’s wealthiest cities.

Despite its reputation for calm, Zurich was the scene of similarly violent protests in the 2000s led by a far-left group called “black bloc”.

The activists also mobilised during the World Economic Forum at the plush Swiss ski resort of Davos in January.