Tear gas at Turkish May Day protests, Red Square rally draws 100,000
German riot police officers watch protesters as they rally during a May Day demonstration - REUTERS

ISTANBUL, Turkey: Turkish police fired water cannon at protesters on Thursday and some 100,000 workers paraded in Moscow’s iconic Red Square as millions took to the streets around the world to mark International Labor Day.

Demonstrators were out in force in parts of Europe, marching against unemployment and austerity policies while across Asia, workers turned out to demand better working conditions and salary hikes.

In tense Istanbul, hundreds of riot police fired tear gas and water cannon against protesters as they tried to breach barricades leading to Taksim square on the anniversary of clashes that spawned a nationwide protest movement.

The Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement that 90 people, including 19 police officers, were hurt and 142 were arrested across the city as police clashed with flag-waving and balaclava-wearing protesters hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.

In Istanbul’s Besiktas district, Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party was beaten by police, who tried to push him away from a water cannon truck.

“This is a picture that you can only see in countries which are governed by dictator regimes,” Tanal told AFP.

In Turkey’s capital Ankara, police fired volleys of tear gas and jets of water on hundreds of protesters trying to march to the Kizilay Square, also declared off limits.

In Washington, US Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said “not just in Turkey but everywhere, we support people’s right to freely express themself and the right to peaceful protests”, adding the US “also would urge everyone to show restraint in these kind of situations”.

Even larger crowds than in Turkey gathered for May Day in Russia — but this time in support of their government — as a huge column of demonstrators waving Russian flags and balloons marched through Red Square to voice their support for President Vladimir Putin and his hardline stance on the Ukraine crisis and the annexation of Crimea.

The 100,000-strong march was the first time that the cobblestoned Moscow landmark had witnessed a May Day parade since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

“Putin is right”, “Proud of the country” and “Let’s support decisions of our president” read the banners carried by the smiling demonstrators in a colorful spectacle that harked back to Soviet times.

Trade union leaders said about two million people had turned up for May Day rallies across Russia.

Harf acknowledged that even though Washington did not agree with pro-Putin sentiments being expressed by workers in Moscow’s Red Square that did not take away from their right to peacefully demonstrate.

“Just because I disagree with what they’re saying doesn’t mean I don’t think they should be able to say it,” Harf said.

- Anger at austerity -

The tone was markedly different in Greece, where thousands marched in the country’s two main cities of Athens and Salonika against austerity policies brought in during a disastrous debt crisis that led to mass lay-offs.

In Italy’s Turin, scuffles broke out between police and hundreds of protesters. Activists lobbed smoke bombs at police, who charged demonstrators in the northern industrial city, which has been badly hit by a painful two-year recession.

It was less violent in Rome, where 300,000 people packed into a huge, free May Day concert organized by trade unions.

Thousands marched in France, with the biggest rallies in Paris and other major cities such as Bordeaux and Toulouse targeting the Socialist government’s budget cuts to rein in the deficit.

In Switzerland’s financial capital Zurich, about 14,000 people turned out in support of a move to fix the minimum wage at 4,000 Swiss francs ($4,500, 3,300 euros) which will be put to a referendum this month.

Rallies also took place across Africa, Asia, Latin America and parts of the Middle East.

Going against conservative Gulf states’ traditional ban on May Day events, Qatar pledged pay guarantees and better conditions for foreign migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup at a Labor Day conference to address growing international concern over their poor salaries, work conditions and exploitation.

Tens of thousands of Moroccans meanwhile marched demanding better wages and condemning a new 10 percent salary hike to the minimum wage in the private sector as insufficient.

For Venezuelans, the focus was on wealthier suburbs of the capital, Caracas, as protesters took the opportunity for another rally against President Nicolas Maduro. Around 3,000 people called for an end to the chronic shortages that have beset the country.

- ‘We are not slaves’ -

In Cambodia, security forces armed with sticks and batons forcibly dispersed dozens of May Day protesters near Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, according to an AFP photographer. Several people were beaten.

In Indonesia, protesters carrying portraits of leftist idols such as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and the country’s first president Sukarno, marched to the state palace in Jakarta.

Some sang and danced as others carried a three-meter-long toy octopus wearing a red hat with the words “Capitalist Octopus, Sucking the Blood of Workers”.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s landmark Victoria Park to walk to the government headquarters singing a Chinese version of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical “Les Miserables”, while calling for better working conditions and wages.

Domestic helper rights lobby groups, which made up a large portion of the rally, wore masks with a picture of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian maid who was allegedly abused by her employer for months, while shouting: “We are workers, we are not slaves”.

About 20,000 people rallied in Kuala Lumpur against price hikes implemented by Malaysia’s long-ruling government, which already is under domestic and international scrutiny over its handling of the search for a missing passenger jet that disappeared on March 8.

More than 10,000 workers marched to the labor ministry in Taiwan’s capital Taipei, demanding wage hikes and a ban on companies hiring cheap temporary or part-time workers.

In Singapore, a protest organized by critics of the government’s immigration policy drew around 400 protesters chanting slogans calling for the long-ruling People’s Action Party to step down.

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