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Davos protesters confront police

DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- Several hundred protesters at the World Economic Forum summit have been forced back by police using water cannons.

In a driving snowstorm in the Swiss ski resort of Davos on Saturday, the demonstrators -- ignoring a ban on protests -- approached a metal fence erected by the authorities about 500 metres from the conference centre, which has been turned into a virtual fortress.

Scuffles between demonstrators and police broke out after a police loudspeaker declared in English, French, German and Italian that the protest was "not permitted."

But demonstrators still tried to march on the conference centre.

CNN's Patricia Kelly reports on the protest against the World Economic Forum

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Ignoring the protests outside, Japan's prime minister assured business and government leaders that his country's economic rebound is nearly complete.

CNN Hong Kong bureau chief Mike Chinoy, who is attending the summit, said when the demonstators refused to move, police water cannons sprayed the chanting crowd, which moved back 50 metres.

Police took no further action against the protesters, who remained out of range of the water cannons. Any gathering would be illegal because it would require the consent of the local authorities, and they have refused to sanction anything during the week of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.

The protests took place as skiers and snowboarders walked to ski lifts near the conference centre, which is surrounded by barbed wire and officers equipped with riot gear and tear gas.

More than 100 people carrying pamphlets or other material suggesting they were anti-Davos demonstrators were stopped from entering Switzerland earlier in the week, Swiss officials said.

The protesters congregated despite a huge security presence aimed at avoiding the kind of violent clashes that marred last year's annual gathering of the world's political and corporate elite. However, it has stoked complaints that civil liberties are being stifled.

Simone Brunner, a member of one of the groups organising Saturday's protest, strongly criticised police tactics.

Alternative meetings

"I heard from a young woman who had dreadlocks who was not allowed to come up to her job here," she said.

"It's absurd what's going on. They can't suspend basic human rights because of a meeting," she said.

Brunner warned that if people were prevented from getting to Davos, "they'll be angry and they might demonstrate somewhere else."

Opponents of the World Economic Forum say it is undemocratic for world leaders and company chief executives to debate issues crucial to the world's future behind closed doors.

Forum organisers have tried to address this by inviting 36 grassroots organisations, including the heads of Greenpeace and Amnesty International, to attend.

Some grassroots groups have organised alternative meetings to the World Economic Forum both across the street in Davos and across the world in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

On Friday, more than 1,000 poor Brazilian farmers, bolstered by foreign activists from the Brazilian "Anti-Davos" summit, stormed a biotech plant owned by U.S.-based Monsanto in Brazil in a protest over genetically modified food.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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