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Germany: May Day marches draw attention to Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine was the dominant theme of May 1 Labor Day marches across Germany. The day also saw scuffles in the western city of Dortmund.

Protesters marching for workers' rights in Berlin, holding up a red banner and yellow flags

Protesters marched for workers' rights in Berlin

As cities across Germany marked International Labor Day on Sunday, traditional marches also included calls for solidarity with Ukraine or an an all-out stop to Russia's invasion of the country.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, from the center-left Social Democrats, told a May Day rally in Düsseldorf that his government was committed to supporting Ukraine with weapons.

He said a pacifist approach was outdated and warned of the effect that the war would have on food prices.

"I respect all pacifism, I respect all attitudes," said Scholz. "But it must seem cynical to a citizen of Ukraine to be told to defend himself against Putin's aggression without weapons.''

The German chancellor also warned of the danger posed by rising food prices, with Ukraine — one of the biggest exporters of wheat in the world — unable to ship grain because of the war.

However, Verdi Union leader Frank Werneke warned against an arms race in the wake of the German government's announcement that it was also set to increase defense spending.

"We don't want a new arms race that comes at the expense of urgent investments in social welfare, education and climate protection," he told a rally in the western city of Mainz.

In Frankfurt, supporters of the Left Party marched behind a banner saying "Stop the war!"

Meanwhile, thousands of people took part in anti-capitalist demonstrations across the country.

Protests took place under the slogan "We can no longer afford the rich."

In Hamburg, some 2,000 demonstrators marched through the city's iconic old port district, while police in Berlin said at least 3,000 participants were present, with numbers growing into the evening.

Clashes in Dortmund

Police in Dortmund used pepper spray and batons against left-wing demonstrators.

Officials said the protesters had attacked police and tried to break through a barrier.

A spokeswoman for the group "Autonomen Antifa 170" complained of police violence and said a number of participants had been injured.

The demonstrators had gathered to protest against an expected march of some 220 right-wing extremists. That march had not begun at the time of the clashes with police, a police spokesperson said.

There were also marches calling for improvements to workers' rights — a more traditional theme of the May 1 Labor Day rallies.

In Berlin, among the many protesting groups was Germany's DJV journalists' union, calling for expanded rights for freelance reporters.

Also in Berlin, Left Party politician Katja Kipping called for a new law to stipulate that when federal holidays fall on a weekend, workers should be given the closest Friday or Monday off.

As Labor Day falls on a Sunday this year, it means no extra time off for workers.

es, rc/jcg (dpa, Reuters, AFP)