Thousands join May Day protests in Europe

Thousands join May Day protests in Europe
# 01 May 2010 20:02 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Hundreds of thousands of people joined May Day rallies across Europe on Saturday, many protesting against government austerity policies in the wake of the global financial crisis, APA reports quoting Reuters.

In Greece, where the debt-stricken government has pledged budget cuts to secure a European Union and IMF rescue, protesters burned garbage cans and set a TV van on fire.

Shops were closed and ships docked while the streets of the capital were unusually empty but for various protest marches heading toward parliament, meters away from the Finance Ministry where EU and IMF officials have been meeting for days to agree a new set of austerity measures.

"No to the IMF’s junta!" protesters chanted, referring to the military dictatorship which ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.

The aid package is aimed at pulling Greece out of a severe debt crisis, which has hit the euro and shaken markets worldwide, and avoid contagion to other euro zone countries.

"Hands off our rights! IMF and EU Commission out!," the protesters shouted as they marched to parliament.

In France, an estimated 300,000 people had taken to the streets in various cities by midday as part of the traditional May Day demonstrations held by trade unions in many countries.

At the forefront of protesters’ minds were President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to reform the country’s costly pension system, as well as general fears over job security due to the financial crisis.

Marchers in Paris shouted "You had to experience the crisis in 2009, are you now going to have to pay for it in 2010?"

Moscow saw a traditional May Day gathering by the Communist Party, Russia’s second biggest -- as well as a rare, officially-sanctioned opposition demonstration.

While some 3,000 communists held bright red banners and large portraits of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, hundreds of opposition demonstrators compared Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Stalin.

"Putin is Stalin! Putin is Brezhnev! Russia without Putin," chanted the opposition crowd, including former chess master Garry Kasparov, who has become one of the Kremlin’s harshest critics and co-heads the pro-western Solidarity movement.

The opposition says Putin stifled media freedom and democratic rights when he was president between 2000 and 2008.

It also accuses Putin of blind economic policies -- similar to the years of stagnation under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev - as he continues to dominate Russian politics after handpicking successor Dmitry Medvedev and becoming prime minister under him.

Elsewhere in Russia, Putin’s supporters were among some 2.5 million people reported by media to have joined the usual rallies for May day -- known as International Workers Day in the Soviet period.

In Sofia, more than 5,000 Bulgarians protested against high unemployment and what they called an inadequate response to the economic crisis of the center-right government.

Supporters of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) waved red and national flags and chanted "Resignation."

"Every day this government causes damages to Bulgaria and it must go," said BSP’s leader and former premier Sergei Stanishev.

Bulgaria’s government, led by former Sofia mayor Boiko Borisov, came to power only last July after winning general elections. But the country has been hard hit by the global economic crisis as foreign investors fled and firms cut back.

Not all of the May Day rallies were marked by anger.

In Turkey, more than 100,000 workers thronged a central Istanbul square on Saturday for May Day celebrations, held there for the first time since the late 1970s, when unknown gunmen massacred dozens of people.

Unions and political parties poured into Taksim Square, singing and chanting slogans such as "long live May Day."