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May Day Kicks Off with Violence

May 1, 2002

As May Day celebrations get underway in Germany, police in Berlin and Hamburg clash with angry protestors. Violent outbreaks are expected throughout the day.

A police water canon sprays demonstrators in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer BergImage: AP

Every year the May Day celebrations and parades in big cities like Berlin and Hamburg turn violent as crowds of angry protestors clash with police. This year, however, the violence started a bit earlier than usual, and all indications show that the protests will most likely be more violent than in years past.

On the evening prior to the planned demonstrations and marches through the cities’ centers, militant youths in Berlin and Hamburg got into entanglements with police, who used teargas and water cannons to dispel the crowds.

In the Berlin districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg, two traditional hotbeds of social unrest, police made numerous arrests as rioters threw stones and set off fireworks. One supermarket was broken into and plundered.

According to police estimates some 5,000 people, mostly innocent on-lookers, were gathered in Prenzlauer Berg on Tuesday evening for a demonstration sponsored by the "Anti-fascist Action" group. The event was peaceful until a fire broke out. Police attempted to extinguish it and were forcefully prevented from doing so. Several people were injured in the ensuing clash. The protest group, made up primarily of inner-city youths, sees itself as the leftist answer to the equally aggressive neo-nazi scene. The Anti-fas, as they’re called in Berlin, are known for their involvement in violent demonstrations and for their tendency to clash with the police.

In Hamburg 500 leftist demonstrators gathered in the city’s St. Pauli district for a May Day eve protest. They set barricades on fire and damaged a police car. Some 20 people were arrested.

Throughout Germany, May Day or Labor Day is marked by official and unofficial events focused on raising awareness for workers’ rights. Most of the 500 scheduled protests, marches and rallies are organized by labor and trade unions. This year anti-globalization demonstrators are expected to turn out in large numbers as are several Arab and Islamic groups. Police fear an outbreak of violence similar to or worse than the clashes in Berlin and Hamburg. The security presence has been heightened in all the major cities and in areas surrounding May Day events.

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