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International workers' day

Huge May Day protests in Europe and Asia

Article published on the 2009-05-01 Latest update 2009-05-09 07:55 TU

Turkish police use teargas against demonstrators in Istanbul(Photo: Reuters)

Turkish police use teargas against demonstrators in Istanbul
(Photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of thousands responded to calls from french trade unions to join May Day demonstrations on Friday, as workers demand action to save jobs. Spanish unions hailed the biggest turnout for 15 years, while in Turkey police fired teargas to disperse a banned march. Thousands turned out in Asian cities, with attendance boosted by the effects of the world economic crisis.

France's divided trade unions have put aside longstanding differences to organise a united demonstration in Paris, with other marches in at least 280 towns and cities.

Maryse Dumas, of the CGT confederation, on Friday morning predicted "many more people" on the May Day marches than on demonstrations on 29 January and 19 March, the second of which mobilised an estimated two million people.

Speaking to France Info radio, she called on the government to give up plans to scrap 30,000 public sector jobs this year and on employers to stop undermining workers' job security.

As unemployment continues to rise, the unions want stronger government action to prevent job losses and accuse employers of using the crisis as an excuse to save money by shedding jobs.

Elsewhere on international workers' day demonstrations have been large and have sometimes turned violent:

  • Turkey: Police fired water cannon and arrested protesters who tried to march to Istanbul's Taksim square, where 34 demonstrators were killed by a right-wing sniper on 1 May 1977;
  • Germany: Police arrested 49 far-left protesters during clashes in Berlin which left 30 police injured, ahead of official demonstrations later in the day;
  • Spain: trade unions claimed the highest turnout for 15 years, with unemployment, at 17.36 per cent, the highest in the European Union;
  • Cuba: retired leader Fidel Castro blasted Barack Obama's policy towards his country, claiming that the US President wants Cubans to "return to the fold like slaves".
  • Taiwan: more than 12,000 turned out in one of the biggest May Day marches ever, as eight leading unions threatened to surround the cabinet building unless three-way talks between government, unions and bosses are organised;
  • Cambodia: more than 1,000 workers, mainly from the textiles and hotel sectors, marched to the site of the 2004 murder of trade union leader and government critic, Chea Vichea;
  • South Korea: tens of thousands of workers and students protested at President Lee Myung-bak's economic policies, demanding improvements for temporary workers;
  • The Philippines: thousands demonstrated against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's government, as jobless figures show a 180,000 rise on this time last year;
  • Lebanon; a series of children's books were launched to draw attention to the roughly 200,000 foreign domestic workers often ignored and even abused in the country;
  • US: supporters of immigrant workers' rights rally in several cities, following 2008's large protests;
  • Italy: the main unions held their rally in the central city of L'Aquila in a show of solidarity after last month's earthquake, which killed nearly 300 people;

    Demonstators in the southern Russian city of Stavropol(Photo: Reuters)

    Demonstators in the southern Russian city of Stavropol
    (Photo: Reuters)

  • Russia and former Soviet republics: Communist Party supporters carried a portrait of Bolsehvik leader Vladimir Lenin through Moscow's streets and police arrested about 100 people in Saint Petersburg, while marches are reported in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.