May Day Rallies Protesting Economic Crisis Turn Violent
MOSCOW – Workers rallied Friday in European cities to mark May Day, with tens of thousands of demonstrators across Russia supporting or slamming the government amid growing unemployment and economic troubles.
In Turkey — which only last week declared the international labor day a public holiday — union workers held a major rally 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.
Demonstrators in the German capital, where protests are traditionally held the night before May Day, torched trash bins and threw rocks and bottles at police in overnight clashes. Police said 48 officers were hurt and 57 people were detained.
A Berlin rally on Friday also 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 dozens were detained in Berlin, and another 200 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.
French workers, worried about the economic crisis, turned out in unusually large numbers for marches throughout the country. France's fractious unions, angry at the conservative government's handling of the crisis, came together for the first time in decades to stage a Paris march expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people.
It was the first May Day since the advent of the global financial crisis, and in Russia police were out in force as Communists and liberal Kremlin opponents gathered to criticize the government.
No violence was reported, but Moscow police said four leftists were detained after trying to light flares near the Kremlin. Dozens of nationalists and leftists were detained in St. Petersburg, Russian news agencies reported.
Near a statue of Karl Marx in Moscow, several thousand Communist Party supporters sang verses praising Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. They called for the government to resign, accusing it of ignoring the needs of everyday Russians and mismanaging the economy.
The Russian economy shrank nearly 10 percent in the first quarter of the year, and unemployment skyrocketed 34 percent to more than 7 million — almost one-tenth of the economically active population.
Amid the Stalin portraits and Soviet-style flags were posters reading "Where's the money, Dima" and "Where's the money, Vova" — using diminutives of the first names of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"The government must not squander money on support for big business and oligarchs," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the crowd under a cloudless sky, claiming bailouts have helped Kremlin allies.
The overall turnout and tenor of the Russian rallies, however, suggested the government need not fear a popular uprising unless things get much worse. As in the past, most Russians stayed away from demonstrations and enjoyed the start of long weekend.
The largest rallies were organized by the dominant United Russia party and trade unions. Demonstrators expressed concern about the economy, but either praised the government or avoided explicit criticism.
During the Soviet era, May 1 was a major celebration of worker solidarity, Soviet might and the advent of spring.
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 in last month's quake.