From Moscow to Marseille, tight security marks May Day rallies

Sunday 01/05/2016
Unending struggle

PARIS - Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon against May Day protesters on Sunday while France was on high alert for more violent protests against labour reforms during the annual celebration of worker's rights.

From Moscow to Marseille, rallies were held in cities across the globe to celebrate Labour Day as the working classes battle economic crises and rising unemployment.

In Istanbul, police clamped down on unauthorised protests at a time of particular tension in Turkey after a succession of deadly attacks this year blamed on jihadists and Kurdish militants.

Some 25,000 police were on duty, cordoning off the central Taksim Square and releasing volleys of teargas and water cannon on those trying to make their way to the protest hotspot, a photographer said.

Hundreds of labour and union activists took part in an officially-sanctioned rally elsewhere in the city.

Meanwhile, Turkish police detained four suspected Islamic State jihadists who were allegedly planning an attack on May Day celebrations in the capital Ankara, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

International Workers Day was started in Chicago in 1886 by a union demanding an eight-hour work day and is now celebrated around the world.

Workers in France and South Korea have hinged this year's protests against government plans to reform labour laws, which citizens in both countries fear will erode their rights by making it easier for bosses to fire workers.

Marches kicked off peacefully in cities around France, but security forces were on high alert as a joint union rally got underway in Paris.

A protest on Thursday against planned labour reforms descended into chaos in the French capital with scenes of burning cars and stone-throwing protesters who injured dozens of policemen in Paris.

While government hopes the reforms will reduce chronic unemployment of about 10 percent, critics believe they threaten hard-won workers' rights by making it easier to lay off people in lean times.

Government has already watered down the bill but this has failed to calm the anger among students and workers demanding it be withdrawn.

"Withdraw, withdraw, the labour law. Not amendable, not negotiable," protesters chanted as they began marching from the Bastille square.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Sunday warned groups of troublemakers known as "casseurs" (breakers) who appear on the sidelines of marches actively seeking confrontation with police, leading to violent clashes.

"We will respond with the greatest of determination to these troublemakers ... the attacks and violence against security forces are unacceptable," said Valls.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri meanwhile defended her reforms, saying that debate on the bill should now shift to parliament where it is due in two days.

"This bill is fair and necessary," she told local media, adding that reformist unions who represent most workers were behind the changes.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of France's Left Party and presidential candidate in 2017 polls, warned against the rising violence at demonstrations.

"At the rate we are going someone is going to die because violence is a little worse at each protest," he said.

In South Korea -- also battling soaring youth unemployment -- planned labour reforms have similarly sparked anger among workers, and tens of thousands protested against the bill.

Labour activists say the reforms being pushed by President Park Geun-Hye and her conservative Saenuri Party will make it easier for companies to sack workers.

"Let's fight together against the evil bill!" activists and unionised workers chanted in unison during a protest in Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall.

In Moscow some 100,000 workers joined a May Day parade on Moscow's Red Square, waving Russian flags and balloons near the Kremlin walls, police said.

The carefully choreographed spectacle harked back to Soviet times and took place amid a persisting economic crisis brought on by Western sanctions over Ukraine and low oil prices.

Thousands of people marched in Madrid with banners proclaiming: "Against budget cuts and for retirees".

Spanish protesters also held banners saying: "No one is illegal" and "No to TTIP", in reference to Europe's immigration policy and the planned transatlantic trade agreement with the United States.

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