Geneva: North African gangs target Saudi tourists
The information was not made public earlier, as part of regular police communiqués about attacks, and until today, 11 August, most of the information about the incident has surfaced via Saudi cable channel Al-Arabiya, which gave lengthy play this weekend to the story. It reportedly gave the impression that Gulf state citizens in Geneva are at the mercy of gangs from North Africa, the Balkans and the Caucasus. (GenevaLunch)
A violent attack on a Saudi tourist in Geneva risks damaging the city's image as a safe destination for Middle East visitors, warns Geneva's tourism director.
The assault was reported last weekend on the Saudi television channel Al-Arabiya, the second-biggest Arab station after Al-Jazeera. Despite being the top Swiss destination for visitors from the Gulf States, Geneva's market share is under pressure.
After initially denying any knowledge of the assault, on Monday the Geneva cantonal police confirmed that a 48-year-old tourist from Saudi Arabia had been found unconscious with "very serious" head wounds on July 16. He had been struck from behind with an iron bar near the main station. An investigation has been opened.
According to the Saudi consulate, the tourist was discovered at Geneva University Hospital, where he remained in a coma for ten days. It claims the police only took the case seriously when the diplomatic mission and the tourist's family provided proof that money had been taken from his account using a stolen credit card.
The affair was covered by Al-Arabiya, which has ten million potential viewers, in a lengthy news story that also described an increase in assaults and presented Geneva as a dangerous city for Saudi tourists.
"This incident could have a very negative impact on Geneva's image in the Gulf States," François Bryand, director of Geneva Tourism, told swissinfo.ch. "It's clear that it's one attack on one tourist, but it's one too many."
The tourist office has written to the cantonal government to express its concern about the rise in insecurity and the potential harm to Geneva's image. It has also informed the Swiss ambassador in Saudi Arabia.
According to the Tribune de Genève newspaper, the minister in charge of the police, Laurent Moutinot, has written to the Saudi consulate to organise a meeting to discuss the matter.
The consulate criticises what it views as the authorities' failure to deal with the rising number of thefts and muggings and general harassment of Saudi tourists in Geneva.
Over the past two years the Pâquis quarter, squeezed between Lake Geneva and the train station, has grown increasingly hazardous, attracting numerous hardcore petty criminals from North Africa who prey on tourists and passers-by near the lake.
Between 2003 and 2007 the number of cases of street theft involving tricks more than trebled and between 2000 and 2007 pickpocketing doubled, according to the cantonal police.
Source: SwissInfo (English)