Thousands hold May Day protests
LONDON, England -- Thousands of workers, protesters and activists from across Europe are taking part in May Day rallies.
Although there was discord and some arrests in several major cities, there was no evidence of the mass violence and disruption that had been feared.
In London a tense standoff developed between police and thousands of protesters who have brought the centre of the city to a standstill.
About 2,000 demonstrators converged on Oxford Street -- one of the citys major shopping areas containing many multi-national companies -- but were surrounded by police in riot gear.
Missiles were thrown at police and some protesters surged forward trying to break down the police line.
But the demonstrations have so far remained largely peaceful.
Police outnumbered protesters by 20 to one as the London May Day demonstration got under way.
Around 300 protesters marched through a wet and windy London as 6,000 police were on hand in case of any violence.
Police had arrested 22 people, including two for possession of drugs and one for possession of a knife, by late afternoon.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said: "We are praying that nothing untoward will happen."
He added: "If there is any trouble ... we have to have the resources ready to meet it."
Britons were outraged last year when a statue of Winston Churchill was daubed with graffiti and a piece of green turf placed on his head.
On Tuesday, barricades were erected round Parliament Square where workmen boarded up statues of Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.
London's Mayor Ken Livingstone was to be under police guard as protesters gathered for the demonstration.
A hardcore of 1,000 violent activists were expected, and some businesses in the capital closed in anticipation of trouble.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "At the moment there are around 300 demonstrators who have been peaceful. We are hoping this will continue throughout the day."
Demonstrators have dubbed the UK protests May Day Monopoly after the famous board game.
One of the protesters' Web sites said: "Using the symbolism of the Monopoly game diverse groups will perform autonomous actions throughout London relating to squares on the Monopoly board."
Water cannon fired in Berlin
In Berlin, Germany, police turned water cannon on demonstrators before dawn today in a prelude to feared May Day mayhem.
The demonstration had been banned by the authorities, but during the night about 500 protesters erected barricades, set fires and threw stones and bottles at police, who responded with water cannon.
A police spokesman said up to 40 demonstrators were arrested and several officers were injured.
CNN's Bettina Luscher said police and rioters clashed in two separate incidents in the east of the city.
She said in one a crowd of 6,000 people confronted police, while elsewhere another 500 were involved in clashes. At least 40 people were arrested and several police officers were injured.
In France, Marks & Spencer staff were given the pride of place at the head of marches throughout the country.
In Greece, flights were curtailed and shipping and rail services disrupted as public transport workers joined in May Day protests against government plans for pension changes.
Tens of thousands of protesters, many carrying banners and shouting slogans, turned the traditional May Day march through the streets of Athens into a strong assault on the government's proposed reforms of the pension system.
The demonstration followed a general strike last week that brought 100,000 people onto the streets, shutting down schools, hospitals and state services and bringing transport to a standstill.
In Russia, the news agency Interfax said more than 50,000 people took part in May Day rallies across Siberia and the Far East.
It said they were demanding higher wages, better working conditions, improved pensions, price controls and abolition of a single social tax introduced at the beginning of the year.
Protesters carried banners proclaiming "We need a second Stalin" and "No to the anti-national policy of the government."
In Italy, a scuffle broke out in the northern city of Turin after a small group of activists backing centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi tried to join a leftist May Day rally.
Meanwhile, some 5,000 mostly elderly supporters of Bulgaria's main opposition Socialist Party marched in central Sofia to protest against poverty, rising crime and corruption.
May Day: Roots in an ancient rite
May Day Monopoly
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