Thousands in Switzerland march against racism

Several Swiss cities saw gatherings against racism and police brutality, including cases of three black men who have died at the hands of Swiss police in recent years (AFP Photo/Fabrice COFFRINI)

Geneva (AFP) - Thousands of demonstrators marched in cities and towns across Switzerland on Saturday to denounce racism and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Despite rules in place banning gatherings of more than 300 people to prevent the spread of COVID-19, several cities saw huge crowds come out to join a growing global movement denouncing racism and disproportionate police violence against black and brown people.

In the biggest demonstration, more than 10,000 people, most of them dressed in black, protested in Switzerland's largest city Zurich, according to police.

The protesters marched through the city centre, holding up posters with slogans like "Black Lives Matter", "Racism is a Pandemic Too", and "I Can't Breathe", referring to Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25, after a white officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Police said the Zurich demonstration was largely peaceful, but that it had been marred in the late afternoon by a few hundred people headed by known members of the radical leftwing autonomous scene who threw rocks, bottles and other objects at police.

One officer was injured and a number of people arrested, Zurich police said.

Several thousand people also held an unauthorised but peaceful demonstration in front of the Swiss government and parliament buildings in the capital Bern Saturday, according to Swiss news agency ATS.

Local police announced on Twitter that the gathering had dissolved by late afternoon.

A range of other towns meanwhile saw smaller demonstrations.

There was no demonstration in Geneva, which saw 10,000 people march through the streets earlier in the week against racism, but in neighbouring Lausanne, around 1,000 people had begun gathering in a central square by late afternoon, according to an AFP photographer.

That demonstration was authorised by the city, which had erected some blockades around the square to encourage people to pass through a single entrance point to ensure they disinfected their hands and were wearing obligatory masks.

Organisers said the demonstration aimed to take a stand against police violence in the US, but also in Switzerland, pointing to three cases in the past four years where black men have died at the hands of police in and near Lausanne.

A number of protesters brandished posters with Floyd's name, but also that of Mike Ben Peter, a Nigerian killed in Lausanne in 2018 after being pinned to the ground by police in seemingly similar circumstances.