- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 2, 2009

PARIS | Hundreds of thousands of European workers feeling the pinch of the economic crisis rallied at May Day protests Friday from Moscow to Berlin to Istanbul.

Violence and clashes between police and angry protesters disrupted some events, including in Greece, Germany and Turkey. But overall participation fell short of what many countries’ unions had hoped for on May Day, a public holiday in many countries that has long celebrated the social and economic achievements of labor movements.

Many of the protesters complained about rising unemployment and lost benefits, but few specifics appeared to emerge from the demonstrations about what governments should be doing to fight the global crisis.

In Paris, fractious French labor unions came together for the first time in decades to stage a joint march that ended at the Place de la Bastille. Up to 300 smaller demonstrations were planned across France, and police said turnout in Strasbourg, Nancy, Metz and Besancon was many times higher than last year’s May Day events.

Police put nationwide turnout at 465,000, while unions said about 1.2 million people took to the streets Friday. Last year, May Day marches across France drew an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people.

The French rallies followed months of protests and a spate of “boss-nappings” — in which workers angry over job cuts held key managers hostage in an attempt to win concessions. But Friday’s rallies were smaller than the March 16 protests, when more than 1 million people across France demanded more government protections against the financial downturn.

In Italy, union leaders shifted May Day rallies from major cities to the earthquake-stricken town of L’Aquila as a sign of solidarity with thousands who lost their jobs when businesses crumbled last month.

Spain, which has gone from being one of Europe’s strongest economies to having its highest unemployment rate, saw tens of thousands of people demonstrate. Still, participation failed to reach the massive levels union leaders called for.

In Turkey, which only last week declared the international labor day a public holiday, unionists rallied at a previously banned site, where dozens died during a May Day demonstration three decades ago. But the event was marred by nearby fighting between riot police and leftists. At least 26 people were detained, the Anatolia news agency reported.

A protest in the German capital, Berlin, turned violent as leftists hurled bottles and burning objects at police. A group of 400 blocked a streetcar line by sitting on the tracks. Police said 28 were detained in Berlin, and 200 more in the western city of Dortmund, where far-right demonstrators pitched fireworks and stones at pedestrians and police.

Greek officers used flash grenades to disperse violent protesters in Athens after attacks on banks and traffic cameras. No arrests or injuries were reported, but transport strikes disrupted bus, train and ferry services as well as flights by Greek carrier Olympic Airlines.

It was the first May Day since the advent of the global financial crisis, and Russian police were out in force as Communists and liberals gathered to criticize the government. Moscow police said four leftists were detained after trying to light flares near the Kremlin. Dozens were reportedly detained in St. Petersburg.



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