Protesters rally against World Economic Forum

GENEVA, Switzerland (Reuters) - Hundreds of people rallied in Geneva and Davos on Saturday to protest against the World Economic Forum, saying the elite gathered for its annual meeting are not qualified to fix the world’s problems.

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Carrying banners reading ‘You are the Crisis’ and throwing snowballs, several hundred protesters marched to fences surrounding the heavily guarded Hotel Seehof in the Davos ski resort, where many world leaders and business people stay during the forum.

Protester Alex Heideger, a member of the Davos Green Party, said these were the people to blame for the economic mess.

“It’s the same people who came last year and said the world economic situation is fine, and now we’re in a financial crisis. Now it’s the taxpayer who has to solve the whole problem.

“It’s people like you and me who have to pay for it with their tax money,” he said.

In Geneva, where the WEF has its headquarters, police in riot gear fired tear gas and water canon to disperse a crowd that had gathered in a square near the train station, sending people running in all directions.

Witnesses said there did not appear to be any violence by the protesters besides some thrown bottles. One of the groups organizing the rally later accused Geneva authorities of responding with disproportionate force to the demonstration.

“The Geneva police has again shown its incapacity to act correctly in this type of situation,” Le Parti Communiste Genevois said in a statement emailed to media late on Saturday.

The rally in the Swiss city’s normally staid streets was not formally permitted by local authorities.

Geneva police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt said that about 60 people were detained temporarily for checks and then later released with no charges. There were no reported injuries or damage to public buildings or businesses.

The last notable demonstration in Geneva took place in 2003 during a Group of Eight (G8) summit in Evian, France. Shop windows were smashed and stores looted in that protest in which police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

Geneva is best known as a world center for watchmaking and wealth management. The lakeside city is also home to the United Nations’ European headquarters, the World Trade Organization, the Red Cross, and the offices of the World Economic Forum.

Speaking before the dramatic ending to Saturday’s protest, Florence Proton of ATTAC Suisse, another group organizing the event, said it was important for outside voices to be heard in debates underway in Davos on how to tackle the world’s problems.

“The people meeting in Davos are the ones responsible for this economic crisis that is becoming, and is now, global,” she said.

At the Geneva rally, protesters on loudspeakers had called for the end of corporate bailouts, the nationalization of banks including UBS, and more government efforts to support workers and families during economic downturn.

Additional reporting by Tessa Unsworth, Reuters Television; Editing by Giles Elgood