Extreme right and left-wing groups clash in several European cities

 

German police used water cannon and truncheons on demonstrators protesting against a neoNazi rally in Leipzig as half a million Germans took to the streets for May Day, the traditional workers' celebration.

A right-wing rally in the eastern German city, billed as Germany's biggest since Nazism, followed a spectacular election success by an extreme right-wing party in former East Germany last Sunday.

Skinheads, many off buses from all over Germany, wore "white power" badges and chanted: "We're marching for national resistance."

The rally provoked violent protests by left-wing activists who threw stones at police vehicles while attempting to break through cordons around the right-wing demonstration, police said.

Police clashed with about 2,000 left-wingers and later confronted several hundred right-wing extremists trying to hold a banned unofficial demonstration in addition to the main rally.

Supporters of the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) had converged on a monument commemorating Napoleon's defeat in 1813, a traditional gathering point both for the Nazis and the east German communists who succeeded them.

In Munich Mr Dieter Schulte, leader of the German Labour Union Confederation, urged a 4,000-strong rally yesterday to struggle against the extreme right. "We must not allow racial hatred in our country," he said.

Arguing that their police numbers were insufficient, the Leipzig municipal authorities had initially banned the rally, but were forced to reverse the decision following a last-minute court ruling.

Other NPD rallies planned for Gera and Halle, also in the east of the country, remained banned. In Ingolstadt in Bavaria Mr Klaus Zwickel, head of the metalworkers' union, called for a change of government in Bonn, saying the centre-right coalition of the Chancellor, Dr Kohl, "had neither the ideas nor the strength to carry Germany into the next century."

Meanwhile, Berlin witnessed its by-now-ritual May Day clashes overnight on Thursday, as young left-wingers threw stones and bottles at police following a party to celebrate the holiday. Several police officers were injured and some left-wingers were arrested.

Several thousand police were mobilised in Berlin for the holiday, to try and keep the violence to a minimum.

In Paris thousands of supporters of France's far-right National Front party filed through the centre of the city in a show of force.

Held every year in honour of France's national hero, Joan of Arc, the rally has more resonance this year in the wake of the front's unprecedented success in local elections, creating a crisis in the ranks of the mainstream right.

As the party's chief, Mr JeanMarie Le Pen, arrived to ripples of applause and shouts of support, the march took off down its route lined on either side by the party's sinister security wing, the Department of Protection and Security.

Speaking at the Opera before a huge backdrop with the slogan "Long Live France, Long Live the franc, Long Live the French", Mr Le Pen urged his supporters to defend the French currency and condemned the new Europe.

"Yes, to a Europe of homelands, to a Europe of nations, to a Europe of states. But no, one thousand times no, to a single currency, no to globalisation, no to stateless capitalist Euro-globalisation," Mr Le Pen cried to general applause.

In Warsaw, scores of right-wing youths attacked a May Day parade, pelting the 2,000 left-wing marchers with eggs and firecrackers.

The marchers, comprising trade unionists and activists of the formerly communist Social Democratic Party, began the parade with a band striking up the Internationale.

The right-wingers attacked the marchers near Warsaw University, chanting "Down with the red plague" and throwing eggs and fireworks.

According to the private radio station RMF, similar clashes took place during May Day parades in the southern city of Krakow, as well as Gdansk in the north.

At least 74 people were injured and 162 arrested in clashes during a May Day parade in Istanbul, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Forty-two demonstrators, 28 policemen and four journalists were injured in various clashes in the European part of Istanbul, it said.