Riot police working overtime as unions and anarchists link arms for May Day
<table><tr><td>From <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6207808.ece">T... UK</a>
Protesters turned traditional May Day demonstrations into a rallying call against global capitalism as unrest spread through city streets across Europe yesterday.
Politicians in Germany and France had been warning that the financial crisis was about to spark social unrest. In some towns the words became reality, even if the skirmishes and petrol bombings felt choreographed.</td><td><img title="Welcome to Reality!" src="files/pictures/2009/fireandrock.jpg"></td></tr></table><!--break-->
“We want social disturbances, upheaval, and we will do everything towards that end,” said Markus Bernhardt, a spokesman for Class Struggle Bloc, which helped to steer the riots. “The system is violent and now violence is being met by violence.”
Unions estimated that 484,000 people took part in 400 protests across Germany. Riots in Berlin began on Thursday night when cars and rubbish containers were set alight. On May Day morning 700 anarchists blocked a railway station in an attempt to sabotage a neo-Nazi march.
A force of 5,000 German police officers found it difficult to contain the rioting. Officials said 48 officers were hurt and 57 people detained. “One can only advise drivers not to park their cars on the street,” Dieter Glietsch, the head of the Berlin police, said.
In France the usually fractious trade unions agreed to hold united rallies. Police said that almost half a million protesters had taken part in marches nationwide. Although numbers were lower than expected, in Paris tens of thousands turned out to vent their anger over President Sarkozy’s handling of the recession. Police said 65,000 took part in the mainly peaceful protests, though unions claimed there were 160,000, including the leadership of the opposition Socialist party, which traditionally stays out of the union-organised May Day marches.
In Istanbul officers used teargas and water cannon to prevent protesters entering Taksim Square. Riot police mounted three charges against protesters who had joined the demonstrations staged every May Day by the organised labour movement. Police said more than 100 youths ended up in cells there and in Ankara.
There was little to separate the words of the trade unionists and the anarchic fringes, with the global recession seemingly radicalising the leaders of the unions as they attempt to exploit popular anger.
Michael Sommer, the head of the German Trade Union Federation, called for taxes on the rich and an emergency law to force the wealthy to lend a portion of their fortunes, interest free, to the State. Mr Sommer, who has warned of imminent social upheaval, told a cheering crowd of several thousand people in Berlin that “this crisis is the work of greedy men”.
In Spain, where about 40,000 people joined marches in Madrid, Málaga and Barcelona, there was a call from Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the leader of the CCOO union, to stage a general strike if the Government did not consult unions over its plans for tackling the recession. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Prime Minister, took the precaution of joining a rally in Madrid even though the marchers were protesting against the supposedly cosy relationship between the Government and business.
Popular unrest has helped to unseat governments in places such as Iceland and Latvia, and there have been recession-driven protests in Bulgaria and Greece. Although the May Day protests did not pose an immediate threat to incumbent governments they were regarded as a warning shot.
In Germany, where the economy is predicted to shrink by 6 per cent this year, the speed with which unemployment is rising is increasing the support for the left-wing party Die Linke, which has a foot in Parliamant and a foot in the anti-capitalist movement.
“If something happens on this May Day night it won’t be our fault but that of the police,” Kirill Jermak of Die Linke, one of the organisers of the Berlin protests, said.
Yesterday drivers of luxury vehicles could be seen discreetly shifting their cars to underground parking lots.
It was a good day to take the bus.