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May Day: Calm in Berlin, explosive in Paris

May 1, 2017

Workers and activists have marked May Day around the world with defiant rallies and marches for better pay and labor conditions. During far-right protests in the German town of Apolda, police arrested 100 people.

A May Day demonstration in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

People around the world marked International Workers' Day on Monday with marches, rallies and protests that ranged from the peaceful to the turbulent.

German police arrested 100 of 150 protesters at a far-right demonstration in the eastern town of Apolda. Officers reported no injuries but said those arrested had thrown stones and pyrotechnic devices.

In Erfurt, 1,200 Alternative for Germany (AfD) supporters waved signs with such hate slogans as "No mosques in Germany." Police, however, called the demonstration peaceful.

Police also reported no significant incidents in Berlin,  where about 10,000 people gathered for a May Day street festival in the Kreuzberg district. Nonetheless, with pro-worker political demonstrations planned, authorities had mobilized an astonishing 5,400 police officers in case the event got out of hand later in the day.

Recent years have proved relatively calm in Berlin, which has experienced major May Day riots in the past. Still, a brief but violent clash left about 50 officers hurt last year.

'Intolerable violence'

In France, police clashed with a small group of protesters who allegedly threw Molotov cocktails at a May Day march in Paris. Officers used tear gas and truncheons on the protesters, clubbing some demonstrators whom they had pushed up against a wall on a tree-lined avenue. Interior Minister Matthias Fekl denounced the "intolerable violence."

Türkei 1. Mai in Istanbul
Police arrested several people who attempted to gain access to Taksim SquareImage: picture-alliance/abaca/A. Celiktas

Officers detained 165 people during May Day events around Istanbul. Turkey's security department reported that police had detained another 18 people after accusing them of planning illegal demonstrations and possible acts of violence on Monday.

Turkey had declared Taksim Square off-limits to May Day demonstrations for the third year in a row, and police blocked points of entry, allowing only small groups of labor union representatives to lay wreaths at a monument there.

Ten thousand people demonstrated in Athens, and another 3,500 took to the streets in Thessaloniki to protest austerity imposed by Greece's international creditors, such as Germany.

"We must take back all that was stolen from us during the crisis," Communist leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said, referring to sweeping privatizations as a prerequisite to secure necessary loans for public spending. Trade unions undertook a 24-hour strike.

In Budapest, several thousand protesters showed their support for the EU on the 13th anniversary of Hungary's accession to the European Union. The protest was organized by the Momentum party and passed the Russian Embassy. The relatively new party said it would run in next year's parliamentary election against current Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after successfully organizing a signature drive to force Budapest to drop its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Since his landslide victory in 2010, Orban has been improving Hungary's relationship with Russia. He has called for turning Hungary into an "illiberal state," considering Russia and Turkey as proper templates for Hungary's future. Orban has said, however, that Hungary would not leave the EU.

Petitions and strikes

In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma canceled his May Day speech after labor unionists jeered him and scuffles broke out between his supporters and workers chanting for him to step down.

In Cambodia, riot police watched as more than 1,000 garment workers defied a government ban on marching to deliver a petition to the National Assembly in the capital, Phnom Penh, demanding a higher minimum wage and more freedom of assembly.

Across the Atlantic, Puerto Rican businesses sat boarded up on Monday as the US territory saw a May Day strike organized by opponents of austerity measures.

mkg, kbd/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)