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Workers stage global protests

Updated: 2013-05-02 07:01
( China Daily/Agencies)

Austerity, poor working conditions and factory disaster spark rallies

Tens of thousands of low-paid workers took to the streets on May Day to demand higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions a week after a building collapse in Bangladesh became a grim reminder of the dangers of lax safety regulations.

Greek workers angry at austerity brought Athens to a standstill on Wednesday, while tens of thousands in Bangladesh protested poor labor conditions and violence flared in Turkey.

Workers stage global protests

People take part in a Labour Day demonstration in central Madrid May 1, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

In Dhaka, as bulldozers and cranes worked to remove the rubble of the eight-story building, senior army officers said the number of confirmed dead now stood at 405 but 149 people were still missing.

The country's worst industrial accident, which has focused attention on the use of factories in Bangladesh by Western clothing companies, drew tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets of the capital.

Protesters held red banners and flags chanting "Hang the killers, hang the factory owners" during a May Day rally that was largely peaceful unlike larger and more angry protests held since the disaster on April 24.

Workers in Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines and elsewhere also marched on Wednesday, sounding complaints about being squeezed by big business amid the surging cost of living.

In Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous country, tens of thousands of workers rallied for higher pay and an end to the practice of outsourcing jobs to contract workers, among other demands. Some also carried banners reading: "Sentence corruptors to death and seize their properties" and protested against a proposed plan for the government to slash fuel subsidies that have kept the country's pump prices among the cheapest in the region.

In Cambodia, more than 5,000 garment workers marched in Phnom Penh, demanding better working conditions and a salary increase from $80 to $150 a month. About a half million people work in the country's $4.6 billion garment industry that makes brand name clothes for many US and European retailers.

In Turkey's biggest city Istanbul, police fired tear gas and water cannons at stone-throwing protesters trying to gather for a banned demonstration.

Clashes erupted in three neighborhoods leading to Taksim Square - a traditional hub for May Day protests - where the authorities had blocked off the streets.

The Turkish government had banned May Day gatherings on the square blaming renovations.

Amid the scuffles, the Istanbul office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was barricaded and defended by dozens of policemen backed by anti-riot armored vehicles.

By midday, tension had abated and the protesters slowly dispersed as protests in other parts of the massive Turkish city went without incident.

In neighboring Greece, a strike stopped ferry services and disrupted public transportation in Athens as workers went on a march against austerity in a country where the jobless rate reached 27.2 percent in January.

Police said 13,000 protesters had assembled in Athens and Thessaloniki.

Greece is caught in its sixth year of recession and has become an emblem of the painful costs of austerity policies imposed by Brussels on bailed out eurozone members.

In Spain, where the government has so far managed to avoid a full-blown international rescue, unions called for protests across the country.

Spanish unemployment is at a record 27.16 percent and the UGT trade union called on workers "to make perfectly evident the total failure of the austerity policies ... which in our country is confirmed in the facts".

Unions in France, the second-biggest economy in the eurozone, marched divided with union leaders in disagreement over government efforts to make the French work code more flexible.

French unemployment has hit a record 3.2 million people and the party of extreme rightist Marine Le Pen, which also traditionally marches on May 1, called for a light of hope in a France "locked in the darkness of Europe".

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