Switzerland looks to protect tourists in time for high summer season as Florence and Venice go into lockdown
Alpine country goes back into lockdown, suspending tourism as the holiday season starts
Switzerland is to stage a huge security operation with its Swiss guards in place after “shooting practice” games involving on-duty soldiers were apparently a trigger for grenade attacks.
The Swiss federal police (Fedpol) said it would step up protection for tourists, ski resorts and other tourist sites in the southern ski region of Zermatt, near Lausanne, as well as in neighbouring Italy.
A security alert was triggered by suspected grenade attacks on Swiss army personnel, including a charity worker who was “knocked unconscious” in an incident on Friday.
It said that information indicated that the intended target was a group of soldiers on training exercises at a military barracks in nearby Chur, the capital of Graubünden.
A Zermatt spokesman confirmed that a shooting was carried out but said police were hunting gunmen.
Although rumours of grenades being scattered near Zermatt have circulated since 1999, the dramatic escalation of tensions in recent days prompted a major investigation and shift in the holiday season’s “pacific” air.
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Swiss troops – who had been on temporary reserve – are now on full-time guard at the British consulate in the town of Schaffhausen, not far from Chur.
Zermatt, which opened for its high season last week, has nearly twice as many tourist rooms as its official resort occupancy rate.
Police said Swiss soldiers were targeted while attending a training exercise in western Switzerland, and at one army base in canton Graubünden. They have received “close to 20” reports since Friday about possible explosive devices, Fedpol said.
“Near Chur,” Fedpol said, “on Friday night, soldiers from the 17th Reconnaissance Regiment on a training regime were opened a fire alarm, apparently for shooting practice, when they noticed someone pulled a grenade from an [external link] item of luggage.”
The shooting at Chur, initially reported on Friday morning, caused the Swiss parliament to cut short a half-day meeting by 40 minutes. Police later said they were searching the barracks for weapons and called in special forces.
Zermatt attracts about 1.3 million visitors each year and despite occasional protests from environmentalists and radical activists, the town remains relatively clean, offering peaceful shelter to climbers and visitors of all nationalities.
In 2007, a Swiss television journalist, Raoul Van Amstel, was shot dead as he interviewed residents in the ski village. A Swedish man was convicted of murder and given a life sentence for the crime.
Swiss soldiers said they were responding to increased security threats during the last peak tourist season in October.
“Swiss soldiers will also be present at tourist attractions, as well as in the leisure and mountain sports areas in Graubünden,” said Fabienne Grütter, the interior ministry’s deputy spokeswoman.
Swiss guards have been placed at about 50 Swiss airports, as well as train stations and airports in Italy and other EU countries.
In Italy, the government called on hotels, tourist organisations and police to do all they could to prevent a repeat of riots in Rome in 2005 when night-time visitors found themselves mobbed by revellers.