May Day protests erupt around world

Workers around the world united in anger during May Day rallies Wednesday — from fury in Europe over austerity measures that have cut wages, reduced benefits and eliminated many jobs altogether, to rage in Asia over relentlessly low pay, the rising cost of living and hideous working conditions that have left hundreds dead in recent months.

In protests, strikes and other demonstrations held in multiple cities, activists lashed out at political and business leaders they allege have ignored workers’ voices or enriched themselves at the expense of laborers. In some places, the demonstrations turned violent, with activists clashing with police.

Many nations have been struggling with economic downturns for several years now, and workplace disasters in developing countries are nothing new, but the intensity of some of Wednesday’s gatherings suggested workers’ frustrations have grown especially acute, with many demanding immediate action to address their concerns.

In Greece and Spain, increasing numbers of people are losing their jobs as governments grappling with a debt crisis have been cutting spending, raising taxes and pursuing other stinging austerity measures. Both countries have unemployment rates hovering just above 27 percent.

Unions in Greece held a May Day strike that brought ferry and train services to a halt, and organized peaceful protest marches through central Athens. The country, which nearly went bankrupt in 2010, is now in its sixth year of a deep recession and is dependent on international bailout loans.

Elsewhere, more than 100,000 Spaniards infuriated by austerity measures and economic recession took to the streets of some 80 cities in trade union-organized rallies Wednesday, with the largest protests in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao.

May Day events in Turkey turned violent when some demonstrators, angered at a government ban on a symbolic rally point, hurled stones, gasoline bombs and fireworks at riot police. Security forces used water cannon and tear gas to prevent crowds from accessing the city’s main hub, Taksim Square. The injured included 22 police officers and at least three passersby. More than 72 demonstrators were arrested.

Boos and whistles from protesters forced Danish Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt to halt her May Day speech to thousands at the gathering in Aarhus, some 125 miles northwest of Copenhagen. Some believe that she has been leaning too far to the right to uphold the goals of her leftist Social Democratic Party. As she was walking to her car, a man squirted her with a water pistol. Police spokesman Carsten Dahl said police had detained the 23-year-old man.

Swedish police said seven people were arrested and five were injured as counter-demonstrators tried to interrupt a May Day parade by right-wing extremists in the southern city of Jonkoping. Police spokesman Goran Gunnarsson said 60 others were briefly detained as officers tried to keep the two sides apart.

In Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, tens of thousands of workers rallied for higher pay and other demands. Some also carried banners reading: “Sentence corruptors to death and seize their properties” to protest a proposal for the government to slash fuel subsidies that have kept the country’s pump prices among the cheapest in the region.

In the Philippines, an estimated 8,000 workers marched in Manila to also demand better pay and regular jobs instead of contractual work. Some rallied outside the U.S. Embassy, torching a wooden painting stamped with the words “low wages” and “union busting.”

More than 10,000 Taiwanese protested a government plan to cut pension payouts to solve worsening fiscal problems, saying it reflects a government policy to bolster economic growth at the expense of workers’ benefits.

And 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.