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Basel sealed off

By Stéphanie Erni, English by Nigel Hulbert

This coming Thursday and Friday, foreign ministers from 57 countries will be convening in Basel for the annual OSCE Ministerial Council meeting. The event also involves a large-scale military exercise. The Basel Exhibition Centre is being sealed off.

On 4th and 5th December, Basel hosts this year’s meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), whose 2014 chairman is Swiss Federal President Didier Burkhalter. With 1,200 delegates from 57 countries expected to attend, including major world players such as US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, this will be the biggest event to be held in Basel for decades – and will entail a huge effort of organization, particularly as regards ensuring security.

The Basel police will be supported at this major gathering by police forces from across the whole of Switzerland, and the country’s armed forces are naturally also heavily involved. Over 3,600 soldiers are already on duty, while the air force is co-operating closely with France and Germany. Alongside jet fighters and drones, armed helicopters are being deployed: manned by marksmen, the Super Puma helicopters are intended to combat low-speed aerial vehicles such as other helicopters, ultralight aircraft or paragliders, supporting the jet fighters that will be patrolling the airspace at high altitude. A temporary heliport has been set up at the St.-Jakob-Park.

The police have also declared the whole city a no-fly zone for drones of all kinds. On the ground, too, people’s movements will be restricted on security grounds. From 3rd to 5th December, a wide area around the Exhibition Square is being sealed off, including for pedestrians. Trams may pass through, but only empty – passengers will have to change to buses for that part of the route.

In addition, there will be major restrictions in the city centre as from Thursday afternoon. For the duration of the foreign ministers’ dinner at the Restaurant Safran Zunft, the Gerbergasse – an important tram route – will be closed to all traffic.

Traffic is also likely to be disrupted on Friday evening by an officially authorized anti-OSCE demonstration. The expected 1,000–1,500 demonstrators are due to march from the SBB train station through the city centre to Claraplatz.

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