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Europe sees biggest May Day crowds

Police arrest a May Day protester in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin  

PARIS, France -- Europe has witnessed some of its largest May Day marches in years, many of which passed off peacefully despite a recent trend of violence.

The biggest demonstrations were in Paris where the Labour Day celebrations merged with political protests against far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen ahead of Sunday's run-off presidential vote.

More than one million people were estimated to have taken to the streets in France on Wednesday -- the largest turnout of the daily protests which have taken place since Le Pen won 17 percent of the vote in the first-round election on April 21. (Full story)

Le Pen's National Front party held its annual homage to its patron saint Joan of Arc, amalgamating it with a rallying speech which the Interior Ministry said attracted 10,000 supporters. Le Pen said the number was nearer 100,000.

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About 3,500 police officers had been deployed in Paris, but the day's events largely passed without trouble.

The same appeared to be the case in London, where violence has broken out during marches in recent years.

Police leave was cancelled in the British capital and 6,000 officers were on duty -- almost as many protesters as had gathered in Trafalgar Square. Europe
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The demonstrators shouted slogans and carried posters opposing everything from globalisation, U.S. foreign policy, Israeli and Palestinian action in the Mideast, global warming and the issue of rising far-right sentiment in Britain and France.

The worst trouble broke out mainly on the eve of May Day. A woman -- a passer-by -- was in a critical condition after being injured in Berlin when she was struck on the head by a bottle following a rock concert.

And police in Frankfurt were forced to use their truncheons after neo-Nazis gathering for a rally refused to subject themselves to body checks en route to the march. (Full story)

Swiss riot police fired several rounds of rubber bullets and teargas to disperse about 300 young radicals who had defied a ban on protests in the centre of Zurich on Wednesday, after a peaceful union-sponsored march attended by 7,000 had gone off peacefully.

Eyewitnesses said at least one policeman and a handful of protesters were injured as rocks, bottles and firecrackers were thrown at the police who fired back. None of the injuries were believed to be serious, Reuters news agency reported.

Protesters set fire to dozens of rubbish bins and tipped over glass recycling containers as well as smashing shop windows.

Russia saw a resurgence in support for Labour Day. About 140,000 pro-Kremlin and trade union supporters gathered outside Moscow's Red Square for a rally -- scenes not witnessed since the Soviet days.

Le Pen and wife Jany
Le Pen and wife Jany wave to supporters at his rally in Paris  

Spain saw its biggest crowds in years when 60,000 people attended a rally in Madrid complaining at government plans to shake up the unemployment benefits system.

The planned reform, also the focus of a threatened general strike next month, has angered some union representatives as it signals the loss of benefits for the jobless if they turn down work officials consider acceptable.

In eastern Turkey on Wednesday, Turkish security police clashed with about 1,500 protesters and used armoured vehicles to break up a May Day protest.

In Tunceli in southeastern Turkey, police arrested 20 demonstrators, including the local head of pro-Kurdish HADEP party Alican Unlu and several union leaders.

Witnesses said AH-1 Cobra helicopters patrolled the skies above central Tunceli, a city that from 1984 saw some of the worst fighting between Kurdish separatists and Turkish soldiers in a conflict that claimed more than 30,000 lives.

Larger demonstrations in the capital Ankara and the country's biggest city Istanbul passed off peacefully.

On the other side of the world, Australian police and protesters clashed in Sydney on Wednesday as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets around the country for traditional May rallies. (May Day clashes hit Asia)




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