Choreography of Confrontation May Day Clashes Start Early in Berlin

Scattered violence erupted in Berlin and Hamburg late Thursday night as demonstrators clashed with police. The rumpus was a warm-up for the May Day riots that have become a predictable tradition in German cities.

Another year, another riot. Following a tradition that goes back decades, anti-capitalist protestors clashed with riot police on Thursday evening in Berlin and Hamburg, in a warm-up for the main event on Friday. The May Day holiday has been marked by scattered violence in Berlin ever since 1987 and the ritual has since spread to other cities around Germany.

In Berlin, 29 police officers were injured and 84 people arrested after around 200 protestors began throwing bottles and stones at the police following a street party to celebrate the traditional pagan festival of Walpurgis Night. The scuffles, which took place in the bohemian eastern district of Friedrichshain, marred an otherwise peaceful event attended by over 2,000 people. The rioters also threw stones and bottles at trams and cars. In Hamburg, the authorities said that three police were injured in similar clashes with demonstrators.

Police in Berlin are braced for further violence on Friday with several different groups, including trade unions, far-left parties and neo-Nazis all taking to the streets for demonstrations. In what has become something of a choreography of confrontation, the usually peaceful May Day street parties and concerts, particularly in the district of Kreuzberg, tend to give way to car-burning and stone-throwing as day turns into night.

Added to the mix this year is the ongoing economic crisis, with soaring unemployment and public anger over disparity in wages. Trade unions will be out in force, hoping for a show of strength as jobs are increasingly threatened. Police are also concerned that tensions could be swelled by ongoing resentment at the perceived gentrification of some low-rent districts, including Kreuzberg, traditionally a multi-ethnic area with a long tradition of squatters and urban counter-culture.

Although the police said that the violence on Thursday night was relatively "calm" in comparison with last year, they are taking no chances. In particular there are concerns that a march by supporters of the far-right NPD will attract many counter-demonstrators, including the anarchist Black Bloc, which have been known to resort to violence in the past. On Friday there will be 5,000 police officers on duty in the city.

On Friday morning the police were forced to remove left-wing protestors from railway tracks near where the NPD demonstration is planned in the eastern district of Köpenick. Fierce clashes broke out and there were several arrests. Rail services in that part of the city were interrupted for over an hour.

There were also reports of riots when far-left protestors tried to prevent right-wing extremists from entering the city of Mainz. The demonstrators blockaded streets and set off smoke bombs and threw stones. The authorities say around 60 of the 2,500 protestors were arrested.

There were also anti-far-right demonstrations Friday in the cities of Ulm and Hanover.

smd -- with wire reports


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