May Day protesters flood streets of Europe

Story highlights

Greek journalist told CNN that Labor Day protests in Athens were relatively muted this year

Istanbul on citywide shut down. Riot police gassed and fired water cannons at dozens of demonstrators

Spain and Italy -- two countries blighted by the eurozone debt crisis -- have seen street protests

Istanbul CNN  — 

As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate for workers’ rights and, in many cases, against painful austerity measures.

In Istanbul, Turkey, riot police gassed and fired water cannons at dozens of demonstrators trying to get to the popular-tourist destination of Taksim Square for May 1 demonstrations.

Groups carrying May 1 international Workers’ Day banners and chanting “Longlive Workers’ Day” while trying to the square were dispersed using water cannons and tear gas in Istanbul’s Besiktas district.

Istanbul is now on a citywide shut down. Traffic has been restricted and public transportation to the square has been suspended including subways, metrobuses as well as ferry services that connect the city’s European side to the Asian side.

“We are expecting a problematic May 1,” said Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told broadcaster CNNTurk. “It would have been easy to solve this,” he said.

Watch more: Turkey halts May Day protesters

Across the Aegean Sea, Greeks are turning out in Athens to show their anger at austerity measures that have sent the country’s economy into a tailspin.

But Nathalie Savaricas, a Greek journalist, told CNN that Labor Day protests in Athens were relatively muted this year as fewer Greeks decided to demonstrate.

Read more: Spain’s unemployment rate climbs to record high

“There is a sense of resignation among Greeks, she told CNN.”What we’re hearing now is some 45,000 protesters have assembled in the city center to protest against austerity, and against tax hikes and all the policies that have been continued by Prime Minister Samaras and his team.”

Savaricas told CNN that the government is simply following the demands of the troika – a group of international creditors made up of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank – which have led the debt-ridden nation’s economy into the “abyss.”

Watch more: Eurozone unemployment hits record high

Greece has a debt to GDP level of 156% while government debt stands at a staggering 304 billion euros. The country – one of four eurozone countries to request a sovereign bailout – is also grappling with unemployment of over 27%, the highest in the single currency area, according to Eurostat, the Commission’s data service.

Savaricas said many of her friends have fled abroad in search of a brighter future: “What they’re telling me is that the Greeks are very much seen with contempt and the opportunities abroad are not that great because Europe is also suffering.”

Read more: Greece to cut 15,000 jobs for bailout

She added that many Greeks at home are pinning their hopes on Samaras retracting some of the government’s harsh austerity measures while reducing domestic bureaucracy to encourage foreign investment.

Spain and Italy – two other countries blighted by the eurozone debt crisis – have also seen demonstrations on the streets.

In the Spanish capital Madrid and the country’s second city, Barcelona, thousands of protesters marched with some displaying signs ‘Bread and shelter at fair price!’

Some denounced Bankia, Spain’s fourth-largest and partially state-owned bank that requested a 19 billion euro bailout in 2012. Other signs read: “Where is our money? Swindlers.”

Francisco Carrizo, 37, a Venezuelan teacher from Madrid, told CNN that people in Spain don’t feel like celebrating May Day because unemployment is so high and the “government should be ashamed.”

In 2007, before the global economic crisis hit, Spain had 1.9 million people unemployed – 8.6% of the active population. That figure has now risen to 6.2 million.

Figures from Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Spain’s national statistics office, showed unemployment among 16 to 24 year-olds is at 57.2%. Joblessness is higher among women than men.

Carizzo told CNN: “I feel kind of bad because in my case I have two jobs. It’s the sort of thing I don’t usually tell people. I feel sad, let down and I have mixed feelings about it.” He added: “There are people who are having a really hard time.”

High unemployment and cuts to the public sector are being felt in Italy too. Unemployment reached 11% in March, while the country remained in political deadlock since the elections in February failed to yield a government.

May Day protests have reportedly taken place in Rome as well as Bologna and Parma in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Read more: Italian lower house approves new government

Martina Lunardelli, 28, interpreter, Pordenone, northern Italy, told CNN that she feels “ashamed” of all the political and economic turmoil that has dogged the eurozone third-largest economy since the debt crisis began in 2010.

“I am trying to flee from here,” she told CNN. “I have lost all the residual faith I had in what should be my home country.”