Thousands rallied on Saturday across France and Spain to hold May Day rallies in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic as police scuffled with protesters in Paris and fired teargas.
A police source told AFP that far-left “black bloc” protesters had repeatedly tried to block the trade union-led march in the French capital, with 34 people detained.
Some protesters smashed the windows of bank branches, set fire to dustbins and threw projectiles at police, who responded with volleys of teargas and stingball grenades.
5,000 police were deployed in Paris, a police source said.
The CGT union said nearly 300 May Day protests were planned around the country. It later claimed a total national turnout of 170,000, with 25,000 rallying in the French capital.
The French interior ministry put the national figure at 106,000 and the Paris turnout at 17,000.
The crowds held placards with different demands, ranging from the end of the night-time curfew in place as part of coronavirus restrictions, to a halt to unemployment reforms due to come into force in July.
“We have many reasons to come and rally – the health and social situations and the general impoverishment of society,” said Ivan Gineste, 50, who works in a high school in the southeastern city of Lyon.
Members of the yellow vest anti-elite movement, which rocked Emmanuel Macron’s presidency two years ago before largely fizzling out, could also be spotted at protests up and down the country.
“There are so many motivations for a revolt that are building up – the management of Covid, the so-called reforms that are going to take away people’s ability to live, job-seekers who are going to lose their benefits,” said a pensioner who gave her name as Patricia.
“We absolutely need to express ourselves,” the 66-year-old said.
Thousands also rallied in more than 70 cities across Spain in the first Labour Day demonstrations since the pandemic began.
Wearing masks and observing social distancing, demonstrators marched through the streets waving banners, although in many places numbers were capped to ensure anti-Covid measures were respected.
The main demonstration in Madrid, which was limited to 1,000 people, began at midday under the slogan “Now it’s time to deliver” with the participants marching from the town hall to the city’s Puerta del Sol square.
Seven government ministers attended the march, including the labour minister, Yolanda Diaz, as well as representatives of the three leftwing parties running in Tuesday’s regional election in Madrid.
At the rally, union leaders urged the government to honour commitments delayed by the pandemic, such as repealing a controversial labour reform, raising the minimum wage and approving a law on equal pay.
Addressing the march, Diaz said employment was key for overcoming the crisis.
“The crisis has made us face up to an outdated labour model, based on casual work, seasonal employment and inequality … which is exactly what the labour ministry has started to change,” she said.
In Berlin, about 5,000 people rallied according to police following a call by left and far-left groups.
About 5,600 police were deployed in the city where more than 20 rallies were scheduled to be held over issues ranging from rising rents to Germany’s immigration policy and opposition to coronavirus curbs.
Meanwhile in Belgium police fired water cannon and teargas to clear a crowd of several hundred gathered in a park to protest anti-virus lockdown rules.
The defiant, mainly young crowd had assembled for the so-called “Boum 2” protest, organised online, as a follow-up to an action that was broken up last month.
Prime minister Alexander de Croo had urged the crowds to stay away, and hundreds of officers were deployed before the order to clear the park was given.
AFP reporters in the Bois de la Cambre, a large park in the city, saw fireworks set off and some missiles thrown before police moved in.
As the clearance operation began there was little immediate sign of violent resistance from protesters but a dustbin was set on fire as the crowd retreated.