Dozens of police officers were injured during mass protests in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain, as May Day demonstrations turned violent.
Around 30,000 protesters took to the streets during rallies in Berlin on Saturday, police said, adding at least 93 officers were injured as some of the demonstrations turned violent. Some 354 protesters were detained.
Police fired water cannon and tear gas in a Brussels park to break up an anti-lockdown party of several hundred people designed to defy coronavirus social distancing rules.
Protests hit other European capitals too, most notably Paris, where police made 46 arrests as garbage bins were set on fire and the windows of a bank branch were smashed.
Thousands also poured onto the streets of cities in Spain and Italy for the workers’ day protests in defiance of lockdown rules, resulting in violent clashes with police.
Berlin’s head of police Barbara Slowik told local broadcaster rbb24: ‘The violent riots that occurred is something that I very much regret’.
More than 20 different rallies took place in the German capital on Saturday and the vast majority of them were peaceful.
However, a leftist march of 8,000 people through the city’s Neukoelln and Kreuzberg neighborhood, which has often seen clashes in past decades, turned violent.
‘Violence against police officers and a blind, destructive rage has nothing to do with political protest,’ Berlin state interior minister Andreas Geisel said.
Geisel condemned the throwing of bottles and rocks and the burning barricades on the streets and especially the violence toward police saying, ‘The high number of injured officer leaves me stunned. I wish all of those who were injured in the line of duty a quick recovery.
Some injuries occurred after some demonstrators threw fireworks, bottles and rocks during protests over social inequality. About 5,600 police were deployed, and some responded with pepper spray.
Police used water cannon to extinguish fires as protesters set ablaze waste bins, barricades and cars.
Demonstrations also took place in several other German cities, including Hamburg and Leipzig, despite Europe’s largest economy grappling with a third wave of the pandemic.
The demonstrations were the second May Day protests since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was much higher than last year, even though social distancing requirements remain in place.
There’s a nightly curfew in most parts of Germany currently because of the high number of coronavirus infections. But political protests and religious gatherings are exempt from the curfew.
In Belgium, police responded to a crowd of mostly young people in Brussel’s Bois de la Cambre park, who were attending la Boum (the party), an event that had begun as an April Fool’s joke.
The follow-up Boum 2 event on May 1, a traditional day for demonstrations, was held a week before the Belgian government allows cafe and bar terraces to open and lets groups of more than four people meet outside in a relaxation of COVID-19 rules.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged Belgians on Friday to stay united and not ‘fall into this trap’. Facebook also took down the Boum 2 post on Thursday after a request from Belgian prosecutors, who warned partygoers they risked being detained or fined
Police said several hundred people still attended.
Emile Breuillot, a 23-year-old dental student, said he had come to see people enjoy themselves and to defend their rights to gather.
After a calm start with groups chanting ‘freedom’, the police announced on social media that attendees were not observing public safety measures and that they would intervene. Many people were not wearing masks, a requirement anywhere in public in the Belgian capital.
Hundreds of people also marched in central Brussels and through the eastern city of Liege demanding a relaxation of coronavirus measures.
There were 18 arrests in the French capital by mid-afternoon, with disturbances breaking out along the route of an organized march.
‘Tear gas is being used to restore order, but the attacks are ongoing,’ said an officer at the scene. ‘Organized gangs are specifically targeting officers.’
France is currently under lockdown because of the Coronavirus pandemic, but this did not stop trade unions and other organizations encouraging protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s administration.
There were chants of ‘Macron resign’ as the march rallied thousands between Republic and Nation squares on Saturday afternoon.
Youths wearing black balaclavas and brandishing metal bars were seen smashing shop and bank windows.
There were regular anti-Macron riots every Saturday in Paris before the Coronavirus crisis, most of them organized by the so-called Yellow Vests movement.
Named after their high-viz jackets, they caused millions of euros worth of damage around the Champs Elysee and other major tourist attractions.
Major acts of vandalism even saw the Arc de Triomphe itself being ransacked, while police had their weapons stolen nearby.
Mounted officers, water cannons, and armored vehicles capable of spreading high-intensity gas were all used in weekly security operations.
The Vests were joined by extremists from the far Right and the ultra-Left, as well as anarchists intent on causing as much damage as possible.
They forced crisis-ridden Mr Macron to climb down on imposing green surcharges, and he also increased the national minimum wage by seven per sent, and scrapped tax on bonuses, in response to the trouble.