Montreux goes military for francophone summit

21st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Patrol boats, FA/18 fighter jets and helicopters buzzed around western Switzerland on Thursday along with thousand of soldiers preparing for a summit of French speaking nations.

Some 40 heads of state or government, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are due to take part in the Francophonie summit in the elegant lakeside town of Montreux over the weekend.

The palm-clad town, favoured for luxury retirement homes and known worldwide for its jazz festival, was locked down and clad in barriers amid maximum security for the gathering of 70 nations.

"We can't mess with security," the local police chief for Vaud canton, Jacques Antenen, said.

Although he told journalists that the security operation would be "as light as possible", the area was teeming with the distinctive grey green uniformed Swiss soldiers and the array of military hardware on the ground, in the air and on the lake.

The Swiss army's only company of 65 kilometre per hour (40 mph) patrol boats was deployed offshore on Lake Geneva by the French border, although their heavy machine guns were removed for the occasion and replaced by an armed soldier on board, a spokesman said.

An 11-kilometre air exclusion zone was in force in the skies above Montreux, backed by patrolling aircraft and ground-to-air defence units, all in close cooperation with the neighbouring French air force.

About 3,300 soldiers were deployed alongside police reinforcements from around the country, the Swiss army said, with nearly as many troops on stand by for an emergency, along with heavy armour at a nearby military post.

© 2010 AFP

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