Skirmishes mar May Day protest in Berlin
May 1, 2011, 20:50 GMT
A demonstrator participates in the May day demonstration in Berlin-Kreuzberg, Germany, 01 May 2011. A Massive police presence will prevent riots. EPA/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
Berlin/Hamburg - Radical left-wing demonstrators clashed with police in Berlin on Sunday, while May Day marches remained mostly peaceful across the rest of Europe.
At 6 pm (1600 GMT) more than 9,000 radical left-wing protesters began their annual 'Revolutionary May 1 Demonstration' in Berlin, where more than 6,000 police officers were on duty.
Demonstrators dressed in black and masked with sunglasses and hoods threw stones at banks and shops, and in isolated incidences police officers were targeted with bottles and fireworks.
Protesters carried banners proclaiming a 'Day of Anger' and calling for a 'Worldwide Social Revolution' whilst rallying against capitalism, the political establishment and the police.
The march expressed solidarity with the uprisings in the Arab world. From the top of a building protesters unveiled a huge banner proclaiming 'Yalla,' or 'let's go!' in Arabic script, as they set off fireworks.
The riot police initially held back as the mood became heated but later emerged in large numbers to face demonstrators with water cannons. Shortly after the onset of darkness, the authorities ended the march. Police said they made several arrests.
In recent years the police have sought a hands-off approach to the May Day demonstrations, intervening only in response to violence.
Meanwhile, thousands revelled at Berlin's annual MyFest, successfully introduced in the last years to counter the radical political rallies associated with May Day.
A left-wing demonstration in Hamburg remained mostly peaceful, as police flanked an estimated 2,000 radicals marching through the city centre. On Saturday, police had arrested 17 rioters after being attacked with fireworks at a protest over the clearance of squatters occupying a former theatre.
Across Germany, the trade union confederation DGB said that 423,000 people participated in Sunday's Labour Day demonstrations, demanding fair wages and social security.
Meanwhile, thousands of people also took to the streets to protest planned right-wing May Day demonstrations.
Around 5,000 protested against 740 neo-Nazis marching in Heilbronn, north of Stuttgart, police said. Around 450 left-wing radicals were taken into protective custody after some of them attacked officers with sticks and firecrackers.
In the eastern city of Halle 2,000 people countered 600 neo-Nazis who were protesting at the May 1 opening of Germany's labour market to eight central and eastern European states. Brief skirmishes erupted as 1,000 police officers sought to keep the groups apart.
Another 3,000 people protested against a right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) rally in the northern town of Greifswald.
On Saturday, 4,000 people had countered around 200 neo-Nazis at an NPD demo in Bremen.
On the eve of May 1, a total of 58 rioters were arrested in Berlin after police were attacked with bottles and fireworks at a punk concert.
Since 1987, Berlin has experienced radical left-wing violence on May 1, a date associated with a far older tradition of lighting fires and celebrating the end of winter.
The city has a history of squatting as a political act of resistance, which began in West Berlin in the 1960s and spread to abandoned buildings in the former East after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Elsewhere in Europe, the May Day activities were largely quiet with few incidents reported.
In France, the number of workers attending May Day rallies was down significantly on the previous two years, when the financial crisis and a reform of the pension system had galvanized workers to take to the streets in large numbers.
In Paris, a few thousand people answered a call by five trade unions to join in a short march, which was dominated by calls for an increase in the minimum wage.
In Marseille, trade unions said 5,000 people had marched for better working conditions, but police estimated the figure at less than half that.
The cities of Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg also saw demonstrations of up to a few thousand people each.
In Italy, far-left activists threw eggs and wet paper balls at a march organised by Italy's main labour unions in the northwestern city of Turin, one of several May Day rallies around the country.
The protesters accused some of the unions of 'betraying' workers by agreeing to new, stricter work conditions introduced by Turin- based carmaker Fiat as part of its cost-cutting strategy.
In Rome hundreds of thousands were expected to attend a traditional May 1 pop music concert in the central St John Lateran Square.
In Bulgaria, several thousand supporters of the Socialist opposition camp used the May Day rallies to protest against the government's spending cuts. 'We are demanding this government's resignation because it is leading Bulgaria into a dead end,' Socialist leader Sergei Stanischev said.
In Greece, thousands of people took to the streets in May Day demonstrations in several cities to protest against the Socialist government's deep spending cuts.
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