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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
May Day tension in Paris
Le Pen supporters march through Paris
The French extreme right also lays claim to 1 May
Thousands of supporters of France's far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, have been marching through central Paris, amid a heavy security operation.

Jean-Marie Le Pen with his wife and supporters
Le Pen: Anti-immigrant platform
Riot police lined the route of the May Day demonstration along the Rue de Rivoli, which was taking place just days ahead of the final round of the presidential election.

The National Front leader, who espouses anti-immigrant policies, shocked Europe by winning nearly 17% of the vote in the first round of the election and the right to challenge incumbent Jacques Chirac in Sunday's run-off.

Four anti-Le Pen demonstrations are also taking place in Paris, with the largest in the afternoon expected to draw far bigger crowds.

More than 400,000 people have already been out on the streets of towns and cities across France to show their opposition to Mr Le Pen on May Day, according to Interior Ministry figures.

Launch new window : May Day in Paris
Detailed map of May Day marches

About 3,500 police officers are standing by in the French capital as the authorities attempt to ensure that rival protesters are kept apart.

Berlin rioter
The streets of Berlin saw clashes overnight
Pro-Le Pen marchers, bussed in overnight from the provinces or arriving on public transport from the capital's suburbs, waved French tricolores and banners reading "Le Pen - President," and "Proud to be French".

They chanted "Le Pen for the Elysee, Chirac for La Sante", referring to the presidential palace and the Paris prison where France's best-known convicts are held. Mr Chirac has been at the centre of sleaze allegations during his first term in office.

May Day
Declared an international working-class celebration in 1889
Public holiday in many countries
Celebrated in pagan times in Europe as the first day of spring

Mr Le Pen, 73, led his supporters to the statue of Joan of Arc, where he laid a wreath to his movement's heroine.

They then marched to the Place de l'Opera, where the National Front leader delivered an address in which he promised an "electoral earthquake" on Sunday.

A number of Parisians showed their anger at Mr Le Pen's parade. One family, standing on a balcony above the marchers, hung out a banner that simply read "Non".

Police in other European capitals are also on high alert as May Day protests get under way:

  • In Berlin, hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police overnight after the attempted looting of a supermarket, ahead of Wednesday's anti-globalisation protests.

  • In London, all police leave has been cancelled and 6,000 extra officers have been drafted in ahead of protests planned by environmentalists, anti-capitalists and trade unionists

  • In Moscow, thousands of communist supporters and trade unionists are on the streets.

May Day is traditionally celebrated by both left and right in France - albeit for different reasons.

For the left, the day is about celebrating long-standing workers' rights. In the far-right's own mythology, 1 May is about celebrating Joan of Arc, the virgin peasant soldier who in the 15th Century helped throw the English invaders out of France.

Sydney clashes

In May Day demonstrations elsewhere, police on horseback in Australia have broken up a protest outside the Sydney offices of the company which runs detention centres for illegal immigrants.

Other Australian cities have also seen May Day rallies, with protests against the government's policies towards asylum seekers, in support of Palestinian land claims and more generalised anti-globalisation demonstrations.

In the Philippines, thousands of supporters of Joseph Estrada, the imprisoned ex-president, marched on the presidential palace in the capital, Manila.

And in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, supporters and opponents of the controversial Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, are due to hold rival May Day rallies.

Previous protests against Mr Chavez's radical leftist policies have ended in violence, with 17 people shot dead last month in unrest which temporarily removed the president from power.

The BBC's Jon Sopel
"There's clearly widespread discontent in France"
The BBC's Paul Anderson
reports on protests in London, Berlin and Moscow
See also:

01 May 02 | World
In pictures: May Day protests
01 May 02 | UK
May Day protests begin
01 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Thousands rally for Estrada
01 May 02 | Europe
The changing face of May Day
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