Hundreds of thousands attend May Day rallies worldwide

1st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world attended May Day rallies Sunday to defend workers' rights many say are under fresh attack, and to press for social justice and democratic reform.

From Hong Kong to Indonesia, Moscow to Paris, protesters marched and rallied in largely peaceful demonstrations for international Labour Day.

In Russia, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in May Day rallies, with pro-government demonstrations organized by pro-Kremlin parties and trade unions far outnumbering those protesting the current regime.

From Moscow to the eastern port of Vladivostok on the Pacific, crowds waved balloons and blue or red flags in carefully choreographed rallies reminiscent of the Soviet era.

But there were some dissident voices. In central Moscow, Left Front leftist activists urged Russians to follow the example of the Arab world and turn against their leaders.

"Whether Cairo or Moscow, only through fighting will you obtain rights!" they chanted.

In France, the far-right National Front (FN) staged its traditional "Joan of Arc" May Day march with a new leader at the head imposing a new image: skinhead haircuts and jackboots had been banned.

Marine Le Pen, who in January succeeded her father Jean-Marie Le Pen at the head of the party and has scored strongly in recent opinion polls, drew applause as she took her place at the head of the march.

France's five major labour unions meanwhile planned around 200 marches across the country, including one in eastern Paris to call for measures to tackle the rising cost of living and to denounce racism.

One union, the CGT, said more than 120,000 people had turned out: down on the 350,000 it said turned out last year.

Austria's Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann used a May Day rally in Vienna to denounce the banking sector before a crowd of about 100,000 people.

"When everything's going well they fill their pockets," he said. "And when things are going badly, it's the taxpayers who pay.

More than 420,000 thousand rallied across Germany, said union organisers, though that was down around 60,000 down on the previous year. Germany is recovering strongly from what was its worst post-war recession in 2009.

In Turkey, thousands of people gathered in the heart of the country's biggest city, Istanbul, in the iconic Taksin Square, where dozens were gunned down at a rally 34 years ago.

Waving colourful flags, dancing and chanting, the crowds marched in a rally organized by four trade union confederations.

Until last year, the square had been off-limits because of 1977 May Day massacre when gunmen, believed to be far-right militants aided by members of the intelligence services, shot dead 33 people.

In Greece, some 15,000 according to police estimates marched in different cities against austerity measures imposed to fight the country's economic crisis.

Greek unions have called for a general strike on May 11, but socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou in his May Day message called for "everyone to support the big changes that the country needs."

In Portugal, tens of thousands marched in protest at austerity measures expected to be imposed under the terms of a European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout plan.

"Never has social protest been more important," said Manuel Carvalho da Silva, the head of the CGTP union.

Tens of thousands turned out across Spain in cities including Barcelona, Valencia and the capital Madrid.

Trades union organisers, focussing on the spiralling unemployment figures, said there were "4.9 million more reasons" to take to the streets.

Figures for the first quarter put the number of jobless at 4,910,200, or 21.29 percent: a 14-year high and the highest in the industrialised world.

At least 4,000 people marched in Hong Kong in a noisy procession calling for stronger labour laws, even as the city best known as a glitzy financial hub introduced the first ever minimum wage for its legions of low-paid workers.

In Seoul at least 50,000 workers gathered to chant slogans calling for higher pay, better job security and to slam the conservative administration.

"Our livelihood has been ruined by anti-labour policies, rising unemployment and a widening wealth gap for the past three years under (President) Lee Myung-Bak," the Korean Federation of Trade Unions said in a statement.

Protesters in Indonesia called for better social security, turning out in their thousands -- with some 10,000 security personnel in attendance.


© 2011 AFP

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