Workers, activists mark May Day with defiant rallies

Workers and activists around the world marked May Day on Tuesday with rallies and other events to press their governments to address labor issues.

International Workers’ Day is a public holiday in many countries, though activities are restricted in some places, sometimes leading to confrontations.

A look at some of the events around the world:

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FRANCE

Thousands of people marched across the French capital to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies during a May Day event that brought scattered acts of vandalism and arson to Paris.

Several vehicles, including a car, a motorbike and a construction digger, were set on fire. A Renault dealership and another car shop were smashed up, while a McDonald’s restaurant was looted and left blackened by smoke.

Macron strongly condemned the destruction that disrupted the worker protests in Paris. In a tweet, he vowed that the perpetrators would be found and punished.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo blamed the damage on “hundreds of masked individuals.” Paris Police Prefect Michel Delpuech said a group called the Black Blocs was responsible.

Delpuech estimated that trouble-makers accounted for about 1,200 of the day’s 20,000 demonstrators. The vast majority of marchers were peaceful, he said.

Police used tear gas to try to disperse suspected vandals. They say four people were arrested for carrying prohibited weapons and three for firing projectiles. No major injuries were reported.

The Paris march was among protests held nationwide to oppose changes promoted by Macron, who wants to end some worker protections.

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RUSSIA

More than 100,000 people came out on the streets on Moscow to march in the traditional May Day parade.

Moscow’s Federation of Trade Unions said about 120,000 people marched from the Red Square on the main streets of the Russian capital to mark May Day.

Over recent years, the parade became a highly orchestrated show of power by Russian authorities and the ruling United Russia party, with the demonstrators refraining from criticizing the government.

In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, however, Russians unhappy with the Kremlin’s attempts to curtail internet freedom joined the official May Day demonstration.

Several hundred people braved the rainy weather and joined the column marching across St. Petersburg to protest the government’s ban of popular messaging app Telegram.

About 10,000 people rallied in Moscow on Monday to protest the blocking of Telegram.

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TURKEY

Police detained dozens of demonstrators during May Day events around Istanbul, most of them protesters who tried to march toward the city’s symbolic main square in defiance of a ban.

Turkey declared Taksim Square off-limits to May Day demonstrations citing security concerns. Police blocked roads leading to the square but allowed small groups of labor union representatives to lay wreaths and flowers at monuments there.

Still, small groups of demonstrators, chanting “Long live May 1” and “Taksim cannot be off limits on May 1” tried to push their way into the square throughout the day, leading to scuffles with police. At least 45 demonstrators were detained.

Major trade unions gathered at a government-designated area in Istanbul for a large rally. At least six people were detained following scuffles with police at a security checkpoint leading to the rally ground.

Taksim holds a symbolic value for Turkey’s labor movement. In 1977, 34 people were killed there during a May Day event when shots were fired into the crowd from a nearby building.

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CUBA

Communist Party head Raul Castro and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel led a Labor Day parade on Tuesday, the first joint appearance by both leaders since Diaz-Canel was chosen to lead the island’s government.

Both arrived at the Plaza de la Revolucion to commence the parade that drew hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom carried posters with the face of former President Fidel Castro.

“These are Fidel’s and Raul’s people, and today Diaz-Canel’s people,” the parade’s official announcer in Havana said.

The Cuban government selected 58-year-old Diaz-Canel as the sole candidate to succeed Castro in April in a transition aimed at ensuring the continuity of the country’s single-party system. It is not clear how much power the 86-year-old Castro will wield.

Both appeared together on a podium along with other leaders of the next generation including Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Vice President Mercedes Lopez Acea.

Other marches held throughout the country also featured banners alluding to Diaz-Canel, in addition to more usual ones of the Castro brothers.

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GREECE

Thousands of Greeks are marching through central Athens in at least three separate May Day demonstrations.

Museums were also shut while ferries remain were tied up in port and public transport operated on a reduced schedule in strikes marking Labor Day.

Police said at least 7,000 people were at the first demonstration in Athens, which was organized by a communist party-led union. The protesters marched by parliament and headed up a major avenue to the United States Embassy.

Another four demonstrations were planned in Greece’s second largest city of Thessaloniki in the north.

Trains, the suburban railway, urban trolleys and ferries to and from the islands suspended operations for the day, while buses and the Athens metro system were operating on reduced schedules.

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GERMANY

Berlin police say more than 1,500 protesters have marched through the city rallying against capitalism and racism. The Tuesday night demonstration was tense, but mostly peaceful in comparison to past May Day rallies in the Germany capital.

More than 5,300 officers from across the country were in Berlin to assist local police in maintaining control.

In Hamburg, around 2,200 leftist protesters marched through the city, also without clashing with police as they had done in the past.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands of people in Berlin and across Germany came together to participate in traditional May Day parades.

The German Confederation of Trade Unions, or DGB, held its main event in Nuremberg. Some 6,500 demonstrators cheered as the group’s leader, Reiner Hoffmann, said labor unions “managed to civilize industrial capitalism some 100 years ago.”

Hoffman said unions would also be able to tackle the rapidly changing world’s modern challenges, such as digitalization.

The DGB said some 340,000 people participated in almost 500 May Day events across Germany.

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SCANDINAVIA

Danish labor union officials and left-leaning lawmakers started the day with traditional addresses to employees at work places throughout the Scandinavian country. Later in the day, thousands gathered in large parks around the country, despite rain, chilly temperatures and winds, to listen to May Day speeches that often criticized the center-right government.

While May Day was mainly a left-leaning event in Denmark, the right and the left flanks held speeches in Sweden and Norway.

Swedish Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Lofven suggested retired people should get more as he toured elderly homes while the center-right opposition rejected the idea. Parliamentary elections in Sweden are scheduled Sept. 9

In Norway, Sylvi Listhaug, a former justice minister until she resigned in March for writing a Facebook post claiming the opposition Labor Party was more interested in protecting the rights of terrorists than the Norwegian people, lashed out at its leader Jonas Gahr Store who heads Norway’s largest party, for not being folksy, and warned against a weak immigration line.

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SPAIN

More than 70 cities across Spain have held May Day marches calling for gender equality, higher salaries and pensions now that the country’s economy is back on track.

The demonstration in Madrid was among the biggest, with thousands rallying behind the slogan “Time to win.”

CCOO union official Unai Sordo says that “a social majority is emerging from the psychosis of the (global financial) crisis” in 2008 that hit Spain hard.

Pepe Alvarez, the secretary general of UGT, the other main union in Spain, said that meeting the demands of feminists, youths and pensioners are necessary to “redistribute wealth” in the country.

Spain’s economy, the fourth-largest in the 19-country Eurozone, has in recent years posted some of the fastest economic growth in Europe.

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MACEDONIA

Hundreds of trade union members gathered outside the Macedonian government building in the capital on May Day to protest poor labor conditions and to call for the protection of workers’ rights.

The National Federation of Trade Unions led Tuesday’s protest march from downtown Skopje to the government building, seeking legal changes that would protect workers and improve collective wage agreements in both the private and public sectors.

The Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers joined the protest, demanding decent working conditions and better salaries.

“We have received many promises, but the situation has not improved at all,” union head Tamara Chausidis said.

Macedonia’s Confederation of Trade Union Organizations protested the large fines debt collectors impose, leaving citizens with blocked bank accounts.

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CYPRUS

Hundreds of Greek Cypriots joined with Turkish Cypriots in May Day celebrations to demand a peace deal reunifying ethnically divided Cyprus and to protest against what they see as a burgeoning gap between rich and poor.

Left-wing trade unions, organizations and political parties from both sides of the divide gathered on Tuesday in the U.N.-controlled buffer zone cutting across the divided capital Nicosia in support of peace and workers’ rights.

Celebrations featured music performances by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot bands in a moat beneath 16th-century Venetian-built walls surrounding the capital’s medieval core. Some demonstrators waved an old Soviet flag and a Cuban flag emblazoned with the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Addressing a gathering outside Cyprus’ finance ministry earlier, the leader of the communist-rooted AKEL party Andros Kyprianou criticized what he said has been a rollback of workers’ hard-earned rights and privileges as well as high unemployment among young people.

A 2013 financial crisis forced Cyprus to accept a three-year, multibillion euro rescue deal from creditors.

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SOUTH KOREA

Thousands of labor union members rallied in downtown Seoul for a higher minimum wage and other demands.

They chanted slogans urging the government to implement a 10,000 won ($9.34) minimum wage and convert all non-regular employees to regular workers with equal pay and treatment.

The rally was organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. The police estimated the crowd at 10,000 people.

The union members also demanded that the government scrap the restructuring of the shipbuilding and automobile industries, and reform the huge conglomerates that dominate the South Korean economy.

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