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Recession fires worldwide May Day rallies

Police in Germany, Turkey and Greece clashed with demonstrators on Friday as worldwide hundreds of thousands of people angered and worried by the global recession took to the streets for Labour Day.

In Germany, on course for its biggest slump since World War II, Berlin police made 49 arrests as young demonstrators hurled bottles and rocks and set fire to cars and rubbish bins in the early hours.

Around 200 far-right extremists later attacked with sticks and stones a rally organised by trade unions in the western city of Dortmund, as well as police, who dispersed the skinheads with truncheons and took 150 into custody.

About 484 000 people gathered for peaceful May Day rallies across Germany, unions said, but police were bracing for more pitched battles after nightfall with — and between — far-left and far-right groups.

In Turkey, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon in clashes with hundreds of May Day demonstrators in Istanbul that left dozens of people hurt.

Demonstrators threw rocks and petrol bombs at police and smashed the windows of banks and boutiques in the centre of Turkey’s biggest city. In Ankara, about 100 demonstrators also clashed with police, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Istanbul governor Mehmet Guler said 21 policemen and 20 demonstrators were slightly hurt and 108 mainly young people were arrested in the clashes.

Several thousand union and left-wing activists took part in the annual protest, chanting ”hand in hand against fascism”, ”repression won’t stop us” and ”long live the revolution and socialism”.

Violence was also reported in Greece, with youths hurling Molotov cocktails and vandalising security cameras before being dispersed by police in Athens as thousands demonstrated across the country.

Elsewhere, rallies were mostly peaceful, with organisers everywhere promising to highlight public anger over the crippling recession which has seen millions lose their jobs.

In France more than 300 demonstrations nationwide began more of less peacefully, although the arrival of more than 1 000 black-hooded anarchists held the promise of later trouble.

The leaders of France’s eight main unions — presenting a united front for the first time since World War II — linked arms to lead a rally in Paris.

”It’s a party atmosphere, but all the same it has to make an impression. Gathering together like his helps us a lot, even psychologically,” said Juan Rodriguez (33) as he marched in Compiegne, just north of Paris.

Unions had predicted that Friday would see the biggest Labour Day turnout in decades. Organisers of the Paris march said that by mid-afternoon they estimated 160 000 people were taking part — up from 30 000 last year.

This was far less, however than the 350 000 who marched on March 19 in the second of the nationwide protests so far this year against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s handling of the recession.

In Spain, where the government expects nearly one in five workers to be out of a job next year, the worst unemployment rate in Europe, tens of thousands turned out across the country including over 10 000 in the capital Madrid.

In Tokyo, about 36 000 people rallied in Yoyogi park, demanding more welfare benefits and others protesting military spending, with many more youths and people in their twenties joining the event than in recent years.

In South Korea, about 8 000 workers and students rallied in a Seoul park urging an end to lay-offs and wage cuts caused by the crisis. There were also rallies in Manila, the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and Taipei.

In Russia, about 2 000 demonstrators gathered by a statue of Karl Marx in Moscow waving banners and red Soviet flags and calling for a return of communism.

In Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, birthplace of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, police arrested about 120 members far right militants armed with knives and knuckle dusters, police said.

And in Italy, leaders of the main unions held their rally at the town of L’Aquila in a show of solidarity after the devastating earthquake there last month which killed nearly 300 people.

Meanwhile in Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told a May Day rally the unity government is broke and cannot afford to match union demands for higher salaries.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has threatened to go on strike unless wages are increased radically. – Sapa

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Simon Sturdee
Simon Sturdee
South Asia news editor for AFP news agency based in Delhi.

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