Worldwide protests mark May Day

Workers around the world have marked the May Day holiday with protests calling for more rights and improved benefits.

    In Russia, protesters burned pictures of Putin

    French workers marched on Sunday in a series of May Day protests, with their divisions over the EU constitution overshadowing common concerns about jobs, salaries and a cancelled bank holiday.

    At least four marches were scheduled in Paris, reflecting the inability of trade unions to overcome their disparate opinions on the European constitution, the divisive subject of a 29 May referendum, to join forces on Labour Day.

    Instead, workers focused on the centre-right government's unpopular decision to turn Pentecost Monday, which this year falls on 16 May, into a normal working day in order to raise funds for the elderly and handicapped.

    "Don't touch my day off," read a banner carried by workers at the head of a 2500-strong cortege from the Christian CFTC union, while 200 members of Force Ouvriere demanded: "Increase salaries, not working hours".

    "Sixty-five percent of French people don't want to work on Pentecost Monday. The bank holiday is a time for social interaction and celebration," CFTC president Jacques Voisin told AFP.

    German violence

    Three police officers were injured and 65 people detained in Berlin in overnight clashes between stone-throwing hooligans and authorities ahead of traditional May Day rallies, police said on Sunday.

    In violence that has become a fixture of the holiday since the late 1980s, scuffles broke out in the eastern districts of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg as far-left youths also set garbage cans ablaze and built bonfires on neighbourhood streets.

    In Pakistan workers demanded a
    better social security system

    Police noted, however, that the disturbances were far less severe than in previous years due to a ban at key flashpoints on bottles and cans - frequently used as missiles against authorities - and a de-escalation policy for officers on the scene.

    In Ukraine, nearly 2500 communists and supporters marked May Day on Sunday, rallying in downtown Kiev to protest against the pro-Western policies of the current government.

    The crowd marched through the Ukrainian capital waving red
    flags and carrying banners reading "Yushchenko! Ukraine is
    not an American state!"

    Better working conditions

    Thousands of Pakistani workers held May Day rallies in major cities across the country on Sunday demanding increased wages, job security and an end to the contract system,
    witnesses said.

    The largest rally was in the eastern city of Lahore, where about 2000 workers waving red flags marched in the streets, shouting slogans against poor working conditions, a lack of a social security system and low wages.

    In the Philippines, police were on
    alert after reports of a coup plot

    "We mark this day to demand the government to increase minimum wages, end the contract system and provide health and education facilities," secretary general of the all Pakistan federation of trade unions, Khurshid Ahmed, told the gathering.

    Similar rallies were held in Karachi, Multan and Faisalabad, where trade union leaders condemned the government for turning a blind eye to the plight of the working class.

    Labour leaders demanded that the minimum monthly wages, currently about 3000 rupees (about $50), be doubled.

    Anger at Putin

    Trade unions and political parties called out their followers across Russia on Sunday for May Day protests, pegging their demands for improved social welfare to the traditional labour holiday.

     "We mark this day to demand the government to increase minimum wages, end the contract system and provide health and education facilities"

    Khurshid Ahmed,
    secretary general of the All Pakistan Federation of Trade Unions

    Police in the Russian capital - already in a heightened state of security due to next week's Victory Day celebrations - closed off many streets in the centre, using dogs and metal detectors to check the thousands of protesters who gathered.

    Communists and other opposition parties rallied under pictures of Lenin and Stalin, along with traditional red-and-white, hammer-and-sickle banners, reading "Rise, Save Russia!" and "Organs have Replaced Brains!" and marched down Tverskaya Street, one of Russia' main boulevards, to the square in front of the Bolshoi Theater.

    Some youth activists burned portraits of President Vladimir Putin.

    Work conditions

    Talk of a political coup and the ringing of cash registers during holiday spending sprees almost drowned the traditional calls for better pay and work conditions during May Day parades in Asia on Sunday.

    In a developing region, whose growing manufacturing base is increasingly affecting the labour issues of much of the rest of the world, few activists took the time to mark international labour day.

    There were not many May Day
    protests in China 

    In China, which has more communists than the rest of the world combined, the plight of the toiling worker appeared to be the last thing on people's minds, as the first day of a weeklong national holiday was marked by conspicuous consumption.

    The May Day holiday, just like two other weeklong vacations during the year, has been designed by policy-makers to trigger extra spending and travelling.

    Beijing's two largest train stations reported traffic reaching more than 100,000 passengers on Saturday and Wangfujing, Beijing's top shopping street near Tiananmen Square, was thronged by thousands of people kicking off what looked set to become a consumption feast.

    Many were expected to travel to Hong Kong, where recently relaxed travel restrictions for the mainland led Chinese authorities in the southern territory to predict that about 5.5 million tourists would cross its border.

    Filipino coup plot
    Philippinos were consumed by talk of yet another plot to overthrow President Gloria Arroyo.

    As 3000 protesters massed to march on the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, thousands of military and police forces were put on full alert after the government accused a group of retired generals of trying to recruit forces to mount a coup attempt.

    Arroyo aides described the reported plots as "nuisances", but police were concerned communist guerrillas or other agitators could infiltrate the protesters' ranks and foment violence.

    In Australia and Malaysia, activists attacked recent government rulings viewed as deleterious to the nations' workers.

    A controversial crackdown on hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants from poverty-hit Asian countries came under fire from rights activists in Malaysia.

    "The recent crackdown on hundreds of thousands of migrant labour exposed not only a callous regard for basic workers' rights and dignity but also a serious flaw in Malaysia's economic fundamentals," said local rights group, Voice of the Malaysian People (Suaram).

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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