Left and right fight the battle of May Day

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The Independent Online
Right-wing extremists and their left-wing alter egos clashed in several German cities and fought running battles with police in what has now become a traditional May Day celebration.

In Berlin, about 7,000 people attended two separate "revolutionary demonstrations" - one in the East's Prenzlauer Berg and the other in Kreuzberg in the West. Police had braced themselves for violence on a scale matching the notorious riots of 10 years ago, but by last night the toll stood at fewer than 20 burnt-out cars and a few smashed shop windows. Dozens of those involved in stone-throwing incidents were detained.

Contrary to all expectations, the day's worst violence flared not in eastern Germany, but in the quiet town of Munden, near Hanover in the West.

One policeman was seriously injured there after a clash between about 300 right-wingers, led by the neo-Nazi firebrand Thorsten Heise, and a smaller group of left-wing "Autonomes". About 150 right-wingers were arrested.

The neo-Nazis were believed to belong to the NPD, the nationalist party which had tried all day to stage a mass demonstration somewhere in the east. Initially, the NPD had called for a rally in Leipzig, in front of the monument commemorating Napoleon's defeat on German soil.

This was, however, banned by the local authorities, and a force of 4,500 policemen ringed the monument yesterday to prevent a gathering.

The NPD had boasted that 70,000 people would be turning up for its demo, but by last night there were sightings of only small groups of their adherents in isolated towns. Small groups of neo-Nazis were detained in Dortmund, Aschaffenburg and Wiesbaden.

In Leipzig about 150 left-wing extremists expressed disappointment over their enemies' failure to show up by pelting police with rocks and fireworks. Leipzig was also the focal point of the national trade unions' May Day festivities, culminating in a 20,000-strong rally.

Union leaders and opposition politicians called for action to resist the policies of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government. Klaus Zwickel, the head of Germany's largest union, IG Metall, demanded the Chancellor's removal.

"This government is only interested in maintaining power, he said. This government must be dissolved."

The man who would do the removing if only he had the power was also at the rally, sounding suitably hostile to Mr Kohl.

"Share values are rising, profits are exploding and yet unemployment has been rising for years," said Oskar Lafontaine, leader of the opposition Social Democrats. "We need new commercial and financial policies," he said, without elaborating.

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