Climate protesters arrested outside Swiss banks

ZURICH (Reuters) - Environmental activists, seeking to pressure Swiss banks into halting the financing of fossil fuels, blocked entrances to Credit Suisse in Zurich and UBS in Basel on Monday before police intervened and arrested some protesters.

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The action, initiated by groups calling for civil disobedience to draw attention to activities that accelerate climate change, halted streetcars and drew onlookers on Zurich’s Parade Square as well as its Bahnhofstrasse luxury shopping mile.

Police observed the protesters, who were given the opportunity to leave of their own accord, for more than an hour before moving in, using saws and bolt cutters to remove activists who had chained themselves together or to structures.

“Switzerland does not have coal mines or oil wells, but these activities are financed from here,” Frida Kohlmann, a spokeswoman for Collective Climate Justice, a group that helped organize the protest, told Reuters before the arrests.

“Banks have a good image here, and under this squeaky clean image, they are financing dirty business all over the world.”

Heatwaves and wildfires, as well the United Nations urging action to halt rising temperatures, have spurred activists across Europe and elsewhere this year to risk arrest by joining protests to persuade governments and companies to do more to curb fossil fuel use.

Zurich police said on Twitter they had arrested around two dozen protesters before midday, with more due to be removed from bank entrances.

Many protesters were clad in white suits and wore face masks. Some carried placards displaying slogans, including “Stop Coal”, and chanted “Fossil Banks -- too big to stay” and “We’re fighting for your children.”

Kohlmann said Credit Suisse was targeted because it has helped finance the activities of fossil fuel-based energy companies, including RWE, Germany’s largest operator of coal-fired power plants.

Environmentalists have blasted RWE for targeting the Hambach Forest to make way for expansion of its open-pit lignite, or brown coal, mine.

This year, the utility delayed forest clearing plans until late 2020, after activists built barricades and otherwise sought to halt logging in the ancient western German forest. Late last month, activists occupied RWE facilities at its Garzweiler open pit mine.

Credit Suisse did not immediately comment, while a UBS spokeswoman declined to comment.

Both banks have published documents describing internal efforts to protect the climate, including reducing business flights for employees and helping clients invest billions of dollars in renewable energy companies.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan