PARIS- Hundreds of thousands of European workers, trade unionists and anti-capitalist activists took to the streets Tuesday to mark May Day by protesting the effects of the global free market.
In Germany, anarchist and leftist protesters fought street battles with police and in London, riot squads were on stand-by for a possible repeat of last year's violent disorder.
But elsewhere the protests were mainly peaceful and dominated by long-standing trade unions rather than the younger hard-left fringe of the anti-capitalist movement.
Violent clashes overnight between some 500 stone-throwing anarchist demonstrators and police in an eastern district of Berlin left several officers injured and 40 people in custody, police in said.
Leila Khaled, from the Palestinian Liberation Movement, speaks as guest of honor to participants of the May Day rally in Zurich, Switzerland, Tuesday May 1, 2001. (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri)
Some 9,000 officers from around the country were ordered to the streets of Berlin to keep demonstrations under control and prevent the street violence that has marred May Day celebrations there for more than a decade.
A "Revolutionary May 1 Demonstration" by the left in the multicultural district of Kreuzberg has been banned. But around 1,000 members of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) were permitted to hold a "Jobs for Germans First" protest in an east Berlin district around midday.
An "anti-fascist" counter-demonstration at the NPD rally has also been blocked by the courts.
In London, a day of planned anti-capitalist protests got off to a muted start, apparently stifled by a huge police presence on hand to stop a re-run of last year's mayhem, in which businesses and monuments were vandalised.
Some 6,000 extra police drafted in and by mid-morning it appeared the protesters were outnumbered.
The day started with several hundred cheering, horn-blaring cyclists, many in carnival-style costumes, riding between two mainline railway stations.
A crowd of up to 700 people brought traffic to a standstill outside King's Cross station for 30 minutes, before beginning a slow march under heavy police escort.
"Overthrow capitalism and replace it with something nice," read a banner.
In France, hundreds of thousands of trade unionists marched in towns across the country, with demonstrations focusing on recent job cuts at profitable international firms.
This year, another symbolic target has been added to the list headed by US restaurant chain McDonald's, which has been long a target of anti-capitalist and environmental protests: the British supermarket Marks and Spencer.
In Toulouse, 3,000 demonstrators surrounded a branch of the store to protest the retailer's decision to close all shops in continental Europe with a loss of 4,400 jobs, 1,700 of them in France.
Similar demonstrations were held in Spain, where unions united under the slogan "Stable, safe jobs and workers' rights".
In Austria, where the presence of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party in the ruling coalition has galvanised support for left-wing parties, 100,000 marchers gathered in Vienna gathered to hear calls for greater job security.
In eastern Europe, where May Day parades were once great national celebrations of the victory of socialism, nostalgic demonstrators gathered to protest life after free-market reforms.
Tens of thousands of trade unionists and leftists marched through the streets of Moscow, with Communists demanding the government's dismissal and speakers fondly recalling the Soviet era.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov led a procession through the centre of the Russian capital towards a monument to Karl Marx beside the Kremlin that gathered up to 15,000 people, according to police.
The Soviet Union's last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, took part in another rally of some 20,000 people organised by the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unionists, which demanded higher wages and more social guarantees.
Similar worker's rallies were held in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Poland and Ukraine, where the protests were a continuation of recent popular anger at the rule of embattled President Leonid Kuchma.
Copyright © 2001 AFP