Tuesday, 01 May 2012 18:47
MADRID: Fed up with high unemployment and austerity, May Day protesters took to the streets across Europe on Tuesday in a wave of anger that threatens to topple leaders in Paris and Athens.
From the eye of the eurozone debt storm in Madrid to the streets of Paris and Athens, where tottering governments face elections within days, marchers spoke of job losses, spending cuts and hard times.
More than two years after the eurozone sovereign debt crisis erupted, frustration with austerity is boiling over across the continent as voters wait in vain for signs of the economic pay-off.
In Spain, suffering the industrialised world's highest jobless rate of 24.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012, the major unions called protests in about 80 cities.
Tens of thousands massed in central Madrid's Neptuno square, decrying the jobless queue, new labour reforms that make it easier and cheaper to fire workers, and a budget squeeze in health care and education.
"They are going to destroy more jobs with the labour reform," complained 28-year-old graphic designer Sonia Calles.
"Already in Spain almost everyone is an intern up to the age of 30. And now employment insecurity is going to hit those in their 30s and 40s," she said in the capital.
Thousands more rallied in Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities around Greece, five days ahead of cliffhanger general elections with voters fed up with years of austerity.
"No-one Alone, Together We Will Get There!" read a banner draped on a stage in Athens' central Kotzia square.
Polls indicate that Greeks are fleeing the main parties for smaller groups in revenge over a European Union-IMF economic recovery plan that has brought repeated waves of pay and pension cuts.
In Paris, the French presidential election race overcast the day as three powerful political movements battled for attention with competing rallies five days before polling day.
Marine Le Pen's anti-immigrant far-right National Front kicked off the May Day events with several thousand supporters marching through central Paris in memory of Joan of Arc, who has become a far-right icon.
Le Pen, who scored a record 18 percent in the April 22 first round, led the march and urged supporters to abstain rather than back President Nicolas Sarkozy or Socialist Francois Hollande in the run-off.
Sarkozy's right-wing supporters were gathering at the Place du Trocadero in Paris's posh 16th arrondissement to hear their champion give his last major speech in the capital before the vote.
And, on the left, trade unions organised their traditional march to the historic Place de la Bastille.
With the latest poll predicting an Hollande win on Sunday by 53 to 47 percent, Sarkozy is anxious to gain some momentum from the rally.
In contrast to Western European rallies, more than 100,000 people held a Soviet-style march through Moscow to celebrate labour day and show support for president-elect Vladimir Putin ahead of his inauguration.
Accompanied by kitsch brass music and surrounded by multi-coloured balloons, Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev led the march through a central Moscow avenue.
Police said around 120,000 people took part in the "Holiday of Labour and Spring" march in Moscow.
Elsewere in Europe, people showed growing frustration with an era of crushing economic hardship.
Across Poland and in the Czech Republic's capital Prague, people protested against unemployment, homelessness, and the dogged pursuit of austerity policies. Some 100,000 Social Democratic Party supporters rallied in Vienna for better education and a fairer distribution of wealth, and some 2,000 packed Bulgaria's capital Sofia urging the conservative government to resign.
In Turkey, tens of thousands from all political parties packed the emblematic Taksim Square in Istanbul. Some 20,000 police mobilized in the city to ensure security in the marches.
Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012