Some 100,000 trade unionists filled the streets of Barcelona calling for a "social Europe" in a protest called ahead of this weekend's EU summit in the Catalan capital, police and organizers said.
Demonstrators marched behind a banner demanding full employment and social rights in the European Union, in a protest called by the Confederation of European Trade Unions, with representatives from across the 15-member body.
Several thousand people also joined a demonstration called by the Barcelona Social Forum, which has united around 50 political parties, trade unions and protest groups ahead of the weekend summit.
The snaking demonstration was dominated by the red flags of Spanish and French left-wing trade unions as it left the city center.
"Everything has come together to show that European social movements are unified around these social protests," the head of one of the main Spanish trade unions said before the protest set off.
Italy's conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose government announced plans Thursday to make it easier for employers to lay off workers, dismissed the protesters as "professional globetrotters" in search of a reason to party.
About 1,000 national police officers based in Catalonia staged a demonstration of their own Thursday, demanding equal pay with their regional and municipal counterparts whose paychecks, police union leaders say, are 20 percent higher.
Trade unions are planning a series of huge demonstrations in the Catalan capital ahead of the weekend summit in defense of social justice and gender equality in the workplace.
Authorities are also concerned about possible attacks by Basque separatists.
Heads of state and government from across the European Union are to meet in the city Friday and Saturday to focus mainly on economic and social reforms.
Spain currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Anti-globalization demonstrators and Spanish police are preparing for a showdown as EU leaders gather at the summit venue, with protesters already firmly pinning the blame on police for any violence that may erupt.
Members of the Campaign against a Europe of Capitalism and War have described their planned actions as "festive, playful," adding that if any violence kicks off "it will be the fault of the Spanish government."
The group has planned a huge rally for Saturday while underlining the non-violent nature of the group and its protests.
Spanish authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure that the summit does not descend into the kind of chaos that characterized a meeting of G8 leaders in Genoa, Italy, last year, when hundreds of demonstrators were injured and one protester shot dead in pitched battles with security forces.
Some 8,500 police are being deployed in the city to keep a watchful eye on anti-globalization and trade union protests.
Madrid reinstated passport controls at the border with France and in Spain's airports last weekend in a bid to bar known violent militants from reaching the Mediterranean port city.
Security forces have cordoned off the area around the summit venue, as well as around the hotels where the EU delegations will be staying.
But one protest group member said that reining in wayward elements of the campaign was not the job of the group. "The climate of violence doesn't come from us, but the security forces and the government," he said, referring to a June 2001 protest during a World Bank summit in the city.
That demonstration ended in scenes of violence which overshadowed the summit's political agenda, with protesters smashing windows on the up-market Paseo de Gracia shopping street, before a face off with police in the city center.
Copyright © 2002 AFP