Workers demand better jobs, pay on May Day

Most of the annual May Day workers` rights marches were peaceful.

Istanbul: Activists marking international workers` day on Sunday staged a massive march of 200,000 in Turkey`s capital and rallied in cities around the world to demand more jobs, better working conditions and higher wages.

Most of the annual May Day workers` rights marches were peaceful, although demonstrators in the Philippine capital set ablaze a cartoon effigy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to protest his buying a luxury car secondhand.

In Istanbul, about 200,000 workers gathered in Taksim Square in the largest such rally there since 34 people died on May Day in 1977, when shooting triggered a stampede. The Turkish unions weren`t allowed back into the square May 01 until last year.

"We want light to be shed on the 1977 massacre," Suleyman Celebi, who is running for Parliament in the upcoming elections in June, told CNN-Turk television. Celebi had served as leader of one of the country`s largest labour unions, DISK.

Pro-labour demonstrations were also expected on Sunday in Russia and Germany.

In Asia, one of the biggest rallies took place in South Korea, where police said 50,000 rallied in Seoul for better labour rights. They also urged the government to contain rising inflation, a growing concern across much of Asia, where food and oil prices have been spiking and threatening to push millions into poverty.

Thousands of workers also marched in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines to vent their anger over the rising cost of living and growing disparities between the rich and poor.

Police in Seoul said about 50,000 people gathered in a park near the National Assembly, waving signs and chanting anti-government slogans. Some of the protesters marched toward the Assembly building after the rally but no violence erupted, police said. About 8,000 people held a separate rally near City Hall.

"We want to put an end to the barbaric times of unlimited competition and winner-take-all systems," Kim Young-hoon, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said in a speech at the rally, according to his office.

In China, Sunday was the second of a three-day weekend. In the morning, thousands of Chinese holidaymakers flocked to Beijing`s Tiananmen Square to watch the daily flag raising ceremony.

The People`s Daily, the ruling Communist Party`s flagship newspaper, extolled the importance of workers in a changing economy and world. "Work diligently, work honestly, work innovatively," read the editorial`s headline.

"Today, when the ways of the world and the national condition undergo profound change, the working class and the working masses, their contributions and hard work, still have a bearing on the realisation of the country`s goals, the development of China`s future and the glory and the dreams of hundreds of millions of Chinese people," the editorial said.

In the Philippines, about 3,000 left-wing workers demanding higher wages held a protest in a Manila square that included setting alight the effigy of Aquino grinning in a luxury car. Aquino was criticised earlier this year for buying a secondhand Porsche in a country where a third of people live on a dollar a day.

They later marched toward an access bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace that was blocked off with barbed wire and heavily armed anti-riot forces.

Aquino earlier met moderate labour leaders in a breakfast meeting, which was snubbed by left-wing groups, and assured them his government was doing all it can to ease their plight.

In Taiwan, about 2,000 people rallied in Taipei to protest the widening income gap and to demand their government create better work conditions.

Protesters said that while President Ma Ying-jeou has made engaging China the centrepiece of his presidency and big companies have benefited from close Chinese trade ties, he has not focused enough on the needs of the middle and working class.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing still claims Taiwan as its own.

In Hong Kong, thousands took part in various marches even as the territory`s first-ever minimum wage took effect.

About 3,000 people took part in a Sunday morning protest while another 5,000 were expected at an afternoon rally, local media reports said, citing union organizers.

The government said about 300,000 workers will benefit from new legislation that sets the minimum wage at 28 Hong Kong dollars (USD 3.60) an hour.

But unions are upset about the way the way it has been implemented by the government, saying it doesn`t specify whether lunch breaks and rest days should be paid.

Bureau Report

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