Anti-austerity anger in Europe on May Day
MAY Day protesters have poured into streets across Europe, swept up in a wave of anti-austerity 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 crisis-hit 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 per cent 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 today, 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.
"Total Violence, You Are Robbing Us of Home and Bread!" said a banner brandished by 51-year-old Josefa Martinez Fernandez, adding that her two daughters in their 20s were out of work.
"The young who had work have been thrown out," she said.
Thousands 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.
The two parties that have ruled Greece for the past 37 years, socialist Pasok and conservative New Democracy, are blamed for catastrophic finances after decades of state overspending and nepotism.
The new Greek government will face an early test when 436 million euros ($553.07 million) of debt, held by private creditors who turned down a swap, matures on May 15.
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 per cent 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.
Waving a sea of blue, white and red French flags, Le Pen's supporters chanted "France for the French!" and "This Is Our Home!" as they marched to the Place de l'Opera.
Sarkozy's right-wing supporters were to gather 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 were to carry out their traditional march to the historic Place de la Bastille.
Russia's president-elect Vladimir Putin today joined over 150,000 people in a Soviet-style march through Moscow to celebrate labour day and show off public support ahead of his inauguration.
Accompanied by kitsch brass music and surrounded by multi-coloured balloons, Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev led the most extensive May Day march in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Police said around 150,000 people took part in the "Holiday of Labour and Spring" march in Moscow, by coincidence similar to the numbers said by the opposition to have shown up at anti-Putin demonstrations over the last months.
The authorities appear keen to revive worker celebrations and make May Day a centrepiece of the year as Putin seeks to hold onto popular support as he heads back to the Kremlin in defiance of the anti-government protests.
Marchers unfurled huge banners proclaiming the names of their factories and unions as bands played rousing music that could have been taken from the score of a Soviet film.
"The Union of Machine Builders! Hurray!" declaimed the announcer as another workers group filed past the town hall on Moscow's Tverskaya Avenue.
In an event that struck a chord with those nostalgic for the mass parades projecting Russian power in Soviet years, the crowds packed the avenue from the Kremlin to its end as far as the eye could see.
Wearing a suit without a tie under the bright spring skies, Putin led the march next to a white overcoat-clad Medvedev and surrounded by supportive banners like "Workers for Medvedev and Putin!".
It was the first time for years that Russia's rulers had joined the May Day rally, a key day in the calendar in the Communist Soviet Union. The last such appearance is believed to have been by Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
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