Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

As it happenedended1556726831

May Day protests: Hundreds arrested across Europe as demonstrations turn violent

Mass rallies, strikes and violence in towns and cities from Sweden to Turkey

Tom Batchelor
Wednesday 01 May 2019 17:07 BST
Tear gas thrown at May Day rally in Paris

Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested across Europe as May Day protests turned violent.

European capitals from Paris to Moscow and Copenhagen to Athens saw mass rallies, strikes and violence on the streets.

French police clashed with stone-throwing protesters who set fires and smashed up vehicles as thousands of people gathered for May Day rallies under tight security.

Neo-nazis scuffled with police in Sweden while in Greece a mass-walkout crippled public transport.

The global day of action saw people take to the streets in dozens of Asian and African capitals, with cities in North and South America also braced for disruption later on Wednesday.

A union rally in London was carried off peacefully and police there said they were not expecting significant demonstrations or violence.

Follow all the action and reaction in our liveblog below.


Good morning and welcome to our rolling coverage of protests and marches around the world to mark May Day, which coincides with International Workers’ Day and is traditionally a day for both celebrations and demonstrations.

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 10:38

Police in Paris are bracing for perhaps the most significant violence, coming in the wake of a months-long protest by the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) movement. 

French authorities have announced tight security, with the interior minister saying there was a risk that "radical activists" could join anti-government protesters and union workers in the streets of Paris and across the country. 

More than 7,400 police will be deployed, aided by drones to give them an overview of the protests and a quicker way to head off potential violence.

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 10:47

For those uninitiated with May Day, here is our guide to what it is and why there are often riots.

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 10:49

Police in Germany are also expecting violent demonstrations, with thousands of activists expected to rally against gentrification in parts of the capital, Berlin. Similar rallies will take place in more than a dozen German cities.

Ahead of the rallies, Germany's biggest trade unions have issued a call to voters to participate in this month's European elections and reject nationalism and right-wing populism. 

The DGB, a confederation of unions with almost six million members, said the European Union had helped ensure peace on the continent for decades and brought significant benefits to millions, from paid holidays to maternity protection.

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 10:54

The expectation is for a much quieter day in London. A Metropolitan Police spokesperson told The Independent the force was not aware of any specific plans for a protest today.

They said demonstrations were traditionally seen over the bank holiday weekend rather than on the actual May Day.

But the British capital - and other cities around the UK - have witnessed violent protests in previous years. In the early 2000s, violence erupted during several consecutive years of anti-capitalism protests in London. 

A largely peaceful demonstration against global capitalism flared into violence yesterday when anarchist protesters attacked a McDonald's restaurant and fought a running battle with riot police during clashes across the centre of London.

In echoes of the riot that caused havoc in the City last June, demonstrators selected the international burger chain, apparently as a token of their contempt for capitalism.

The attack, in which furniture was wrecked and windows smashed, marked the start of sporadic clashes that marred an otherwise peaceful day of protests by about 5,000 people who marched through London, congregating in Parliament Square, where they planted flowers and dug an impromptu "pond".

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 11:02

Most of the action so far today has – given the time zones – been in Asia

Here is a summary:

In the Philippines, thousands of workers and labour activists marched near the presidential palace in Manila. They demanded that President Rodrigo Duterte address labour issues including a minimum wage increase.

Wearing headbands and swinging their fists, protesters in the South Korean capital, Seoul, rallied in streets near City Hall, marching under banners denouncing deteriorating working conditions and calling for equal treatment and pay for non-regular workers. 

In Taiwan, several thousand workers were marching through the streets of Taipei, the capital, to demand better working conditions. They carried banners and flags and chanted for more days off and higher overtime pay. 

In Sri Lanka, however, major political parties called off traditional May Day rallies due to security concerns following the Easter bombings that killed 253 people and were claimed by militants linked to the Isis group. 

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 11:05

French police gather in the district of Montparnasse in the French capital prior to the start of May Day demonstrations

France is taking a zero-tolerance approach to protest violence 

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 11:10

Among the biggest rallies so far on Wednesday has been the one in the Russian capital, Moscow.

Authorities say about 100,000 people are taking part in the centre of the city. Over the years, the May Day in Russia has transformed from the occasion for rallies for workers' rights to an official event carefully orchestrated by Kremlin-controlled groups. 

Opposition activists, however, often try to use the May Day to promote their agenda. 

The respected activists' group OVD-Info which compiles police reports on detentions of political activists said that six political activists have been detained in Moscow before the morning rallies.

Separately, in the remote Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Russia's Far East, police have detained at least 10 people who showed up at the local May Day rally wearing yellow vests in an apparent nod to the protest movement in France. 

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 11:17

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, is due to speak at a May Day rally in central London this afternoon. 

He will be joined by union leaders for a march to Trafalgar Square in support of trade union rights and human rights and in protest at the government's austerity programme.

Organisers said the May Day March will follow its traditional route from Clerkenwell Green, passing Clerkenwell Road, Theobalds Road, Red Lion Square, Kingsway, Aldwych, the Strand and Trafalgar Square.

The March moves off at 13.00 and usually gets to Trafalgar at around 14.20. The rally with speakers will run from around 14.25 to 16.00.

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 11:20

A protester speaks through a megaphone as smoke from coloured smoke bombs billows near people taking part in the annual May Day rally in Strasbourg, eastern France

People attend a May Day rally organised by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) at Red Square in Moscow 

Tom Batchelor1 May 2019 11:22

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in