Worst violence occurs in Paris but trouble also flares in Berlin, Gothenburg and St Petersburg

Police and protesters have clashed, sometimes violently, in cities across Europe as tens of thousands of trade unionists, anti-capitalists and other demonstrators marched in traditional May Day rallies.

The worst showdowns were in Paris, where riot police fired teargas and stingball grenades as a 40,000 -strong crowd, included gilets jaunes ( yellow vests) protesters and an estimated 2,000 masked and hooded” black bloc” activists, marched from Montparnasse station to Place d'Italie.

While most of the marchers were peaceful, more than 250 people were arrested after police were hit with stones, bottles and other projectiles.

Authorities had alerted there could be trouble at this year's May Day marchings after months of chaotic gilets jaunes protests in the French capital, in which stores and eateries ought to have plundered and set on fire. Anarchist and other anti-capitalist groups called on social media this week for Paris to become “the capital of rioting”.

More than 7,400 police and gendarmes were on duty on Wednesday with orders to respond firmly in what both governments called ” a security operation on an exceptional scale “. Street and several metro stations were closed and 580 businesses boarded up along the road of the march.

A gilets jaunes protester kickings at the window of a bank in Paris. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/ EPA

Nearly 200 motorcycle divisions were deployed across the French capital to respond quickly to flare-ups of violence, and drones used to track protesters' movements. About 12,500 pre-emptive searches were also carried out under new zero tolerance anti-riot statutes that also make it an offence to wear a mask during street protests.

France's trade unions expressed disappointment at insuring their traditional May Day procession for workers' rights descend into violence, but said they understood protesters' annoyances after a speech by President Emmanuel Macron last week which they said failed to address their concerns over high taxes and falling living standards.

German police were also braced for violence in Berlin, with as many as 20,000 principally leftwing demonstrators expected to focus on the eastern district of Friedrichshain in a growing protest against the rapid spread of gentrification in parts of the city formerly behind the iron curtain.

For decades, the International Workers' Day protests have tended to be concentrated in the southern Berlin district of Kreuzberg, with hundreds of demonstrators typically clashing with riot police, applying stones and molotov cocktails when darkness falls.

Police bodyguard May Day protesters in Berlin. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/ Reuters

There were arrests, too, in Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city, when protesters threw cobblestones and fireworks at police as they were maintained away from reaching an officially sanctioned rally by a neo-Nazi group, and in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, where police circled a group of hooded youths in black.

In Italy, three people including a police officer were injured when police blocked a demonstration against a high-speed trans-Alpine rail tunnel between France and Italy by protesters including legislators from the Five Star Movement, part of the coalition government.

More than 100 people were arrested at May Day rallies across Russia, mostly in St Petersburg, an activist group said. Anti-government protesters, including supporters of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, carried posters saying: “Putin is not immortal” and complains about being manhandled by police.

Riot police try to imprison protesters during a rally in St Petersburg. Photograph: Dmitry Yermakov/ AP

Spain's employees marched to make their voices heard before the acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, begins negotiations on forming a new government after Sunday's elections. Unions want Sanchez to roll back business-friendly labour and tax policies that have remained in place since the previous conservative administration.

Greece, meanwhile, was left without national rail and ferry services for the day as trade unions called a 24 -hour strike and rallies to mark labour day. Athens had no public bus, tram or urban rail services, although metro develops were running.

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