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German riot police hold a demonstrator
Protests turned violent during the night in BerlinImage: AP

May Day

ca/ipj/kj, dpa/afp/reuters
May 2, 2009

Protestors and police clashed during May Day demonstrations in a number of European cities, with authorities in Berlin saying the city had experienced the worst violence in four years.


May Day protestors clashed with police on Friday night; demonstrators threw bottles and stones, while police responded with tear gas and pepper spray.

Attacks on police accompanied a protest of 5,000 leftists in the central Berlin district of Kreuzberg. A police spokesman said there were injuries on both sides.

Far-left demonstrators had also fought running battles with police in Berlin and Hamburg on the night leading into May 1, known as Walpurgisnacht, setting fire to cars and rubbish bins and throwing stones at traffic.

"On the one hand there are people out in the streets protesting peacefully against the economic crisis and there's nothing at all wrong with that," police spokesman Frank Miller told n-tv television from the scene of a riot in the eastern Berlin district of Friedrichshain.

"But when people burn cars and trash containers and commit other criminal acts -- that has nothing to do with political protests," he said.

Michael Sommer, Chairman of the German Unions Confederation DGB
DGB head Michael Sommer said people were right to be angry about the economic crisisImage: AP

On Friday police also counted 1,800 demonstrators in another leftist crowd which hurled paint at the German Finance Ministry building in Berlin, leaving 60 blotches on the facade.

In the western city of Dortmund, some 200 far-right extremists armed with sticks and stones attacked a daytime rally organized by trade unions.

They also fought with police, who dispersed the attackers with truncheons and took 150 people into custody.

Left vs right

Friday saw thousands of Germans take part in nationwide demonstrations against planned far-right marches.

In Berlin police said about 1,000 anti-fascists tried to stop around 200 supporters of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) from gathering in the city's Koepenick district.

Further west, in Mainz, about 600 demonstrators blocked the streets and managed to force the cancellation of a far-right march through the city centre.

Mounted police units used water cannons and tear-gas to separate some 2,000 leftist radicals from neo-Nazis in the southern city of Ulm.

Some 100 members of the far-right carried out an unauthorised march through the northern town of Rotenburg, near Bremen, knocking to the ground and kicking a police officer who tried to block their way.

Mounted riot police clear a city street
Mounted police were deployed to disperse protests in UlmImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Other small neo-Nazi demonstrations attracted around 100 people in the eastern city of Dresden and several hundred in the south-eastern town of Weiden near the Czech border.

"A day of disappointment and rage"

May Day is traditionally marked by union rallies in many European countries and the global economic downturn was expected to see swell crowds this year.

German union leaders said around 484,000 demonstrators took part in 400 rallies across the country.

"The crisis that is dominating us was caused by unscrupulous speculators," the head of the DGB labor confederation, Michael Sommer, told a May Day rally in Bremen.

"This crisis is worse than anyone expected. There is no light at the end of the tunnel," he said, adding that the economic downturn had exacerbated public anger over growing wage disparities.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is leading Germany's Social Democrats into the September election against Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said he understood workers' rage.

"The crisis is a result of greed and irresponsible actions," he told a rally in Ludwigshafen.

Demonstrators protest against the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in the Berlin district of Koepenick. The poster reads ' Nazi-Free'.
Protesters carrying a "Nazi-free" banner tried to block an NPD rally in BerlinImage: AP

"We need a new direction. That's why this May 1 is such a special May Day. It's a day of disappointment and outrage."

Chancellor Merkel rejected assertions that the economic crisis increased the intensity of this year's May Day protests.

"I don't think anything of such speculation," Merkel told the Hannover daily Neue Presse.

Violent protests across Europe

Police and protestors also clashed in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Demonstrators smashed windows in banks and shops, and threw stones petrol bombs. Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the angry crowds.

Violence was also reported in Greece, but demonstrations in Spain and France appeared largely peaceful.

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