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May Day protests get ugly in Europe

EUROPEAN workers feeling the pinch of the economic crisis rallied at May Day protests yesterday 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.

In Paris, French labor unions came together for the first time in decades to stage a joint march expected to draw tens of thousands. Up to 300 smaller demonstrations were planned across France, and police said turnout in Strasbourg, Nancy, Metz and Besancon was higher than at last year's May Day events.

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 all of yesterday'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.

"Exasperation is rising. Why should the people pay for a crisis for which they are absolutely not responsible?" said New Anticapitalist Party spokesman Francis Viguie at a march in the southern city of Montpellier.

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.

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.

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 turned violent as leftists hurled bottles and burning objects at police. A group of 400 sat on the tracks to block a streetcar line. Police said dozens were detained in Berlin.


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