Tensions Flare at May Day Rallies
BERLIN (AP) _ Far-right demonstrators rallied against immigrants and radical leftists clashed with police in Europe and Asia today, overshadowing international labor’s traditional May Day celebrations.
In Germany, a nationalist fringe party staged rallies in several cities, the largest one in Berlin. There, about 900 far-right youths with signs demanding ``work for Germans first″ listened to speakers demanding the expulsion of foreigners.
About 100 leftists blowing whistles and chanting ``Nazis out!″ gathered near the rally. The groups were kept apart by 1,500 police officers. Police spokesman Michael Kokert said 140 leftists were arrested or detained citywide.
Bracing for clashes with radical leftists tonight, Berlin police called in 2,400 reinforcements from neighboring states. May Day demonstrations in past years have degenerated into street fights between radicals and the police.
Several hundred anarchists rioted in Hamburg, Germany, overnight, breaking windows and setting bonfires. Police used water cannons and armored vehicles to clear the crowd. Sixteen officers were injured and 123 people arrested or taken into temporary custody.
In Paris, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front party made its traditional May Day march, and the rival far-right party called a separate demonstration, parading in automobiles through the capital to protest a proposal to give foreigners the right to vote.
Anti-capitalist marchers took to the streets in London under the watchful eye of thousands of police determined to prevent a repeat of last spring’s rioting. One of the main London demonstrations got underway peacefully with the gathering of hundreds of ``Guerrilla Gardeners″ who planned to dig up the green square in front of Parliament and plant seeds and trees. A procession of anarchists waving pink flags and wearing brightly colored costumes marched around the inside lane of the square, causing minor traffic disruptions.
Across the former Soviet Union, the celebration of international workers’ solidarity was a pale echo of decades past, when huge government-organized parades snaked past Kremlin leaders atop Lenin’s tomb on Red Square. Russians grow much of their own food, and many used the holiday this year to plant seedlings at their suburban cottages.
China marked May Day with few political activities beyond praise for 3,000 model workers. Most Chinese had the day off and headed for parks or visited friends and relatives.
But violence flared in Manila, the Philippines’ capital. Police used water cannons to disperse hundreds of leftists who threw rocks and tried to break through police lines in the direction of the presidential palace. Several protesters and a firefighter were injured.
Leftist labor groups claim President Joseph Estrada has followed pro-business policies despite campaign promises to side with labor in the fight against poverty.
In South Korea, about 300 militant students clashed with riot police trying to prevent them from joining a rally by workers in downtown Seoul. Witnesses said the students scuffled with riot police, hurling rocks and wielding sticks.
The mood was more placid in Japan, where the rallies are usually more like picnics than protests, but the country’s near-record unemployment added a sense of urgency. Unemployment in Japan rose to a record high of 4.9 percent in March.
``We are determined to make the greatest effort to achieve stable employment,″ Etsuya Washio, chairman of the Japan Trade Union Confederation, told a crowd in a downtown Tokyo park. An estimated 1.7 million people attended more than a thousand rallies nationwide.
In Cuba, there was a massive turnout for May Day celebrations designed to add fuel to a national campaign to return 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his homeland from the United States.
In Havana, hundreds of thousands of people crowded the Plaza of Revolution for the first speech by President Fidel Castro at a May Day celebration in many years. During May 1 gatherings in recent decades, Castro has presided over massive marches of workers but has left the podium to labor leaders and other top officials.