May Day: Rallies, violence, and hope

May 1, 2008 11:59:47 AM PDT
Thousands of marchers gathered in Hamburg on May Day to call for more workers' rights, while protesters in Turkey were met with police batons and water cannon. In Russia on Thursday, marchers called for economic equality, and in Cuba residents hoped their president would offer up more changes.

May 1 is known in Germany and elsewhere as the unofficial International Workers' Day and is typically marked with demonstrations and rallies that can sometimes turn violent.

In Istanbul, Turkish riot police used clubs, tear gas and water cannon to break up crowds of workers and students trying to reach a main square for a Labor Day rally that had been banned by the government.

Six police officers were injured and 467 demonstrators were detained. Thousands of police were on the street after Turkish unions said they would defy the government and hold May Day celebrations in Istanbul's Taksim square, which had been the scene of violent protests decades ago.

Officials set up barricades in and around the square where May Day celebrations have been banned since 1977, when unknown gunmen opened fire on demonstrators, causing a stampede that left several dozen dead.

"Long live May 1!" and "Everywhere is Taksim!" the protesters shouted Thursday, in addition to slogans denouncing the government.

Clashes also broke out at a rally in the capital, Ankara. Police fired tear gas to disperse a stone- and stick-throwing crowd. At least one person was rushed to hospital, suffering respiratory problems.

In Germany, anti-capitalism protests in Hamburg on the eve of May Day turned to violence and vandalism, police said Thursday.

The night before May 1, known in Germany as Walpurgisnacht, is also an occasion for mischief. This year nearly 1,000 people attended a rally in Hamburg where protests against capitalism and in support of socialism quickly escalated into scattered violence and vandalism.

As many as 10,000 people were gathering for more rallies, including 800 registered to march in a parade for the far-right National Democratic Party. Leftist groups from across Germany were expected to mount a counter-demonstration.

In Manila, thousands of Philippine workers marched to demand President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's resignation for not raising the minimum wage to help them cope with surging food and fuel prices. Watched by riot police, two major groups of workers marched separately across Manila, waving red flags and placards, and then held noisy rallies at a downtown Manila square where musical bands and singers delighted the crowd.

About 30,000 people participated in rallies around Moscow, Russian police officials said. Members of the Kremlin-backed party United Russia marched down a main Moscow artery, carrying banners reading "Economic Growth Not Just For The Wealthy," "Putin and Medvedev are the Saviors of Higher Education" And "Say No to Higher Prices!"

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, meanwhile, led a procession of red, hammer-and-sickle flags and portraits of Lenin and Stalin over a bridge toward the Kremlin.

The holiday has lost much of its significance for most Russians since the Soviet era, when May 1 was a major celebration of worker solidarity and Soviet might. Most people now use the holiday to spend a long weekend at their country homes. In Havana, hundreds of thousands of Cubans were expected to gather in Revolution Plaza for May Day amid hopes the government would announce more small changes to daily life on the communist-run island.

President Raul Castro, who has erased a string of much-despised restrictions on daily life during his first two months in office, is expected to attend celebrations honoring the world's workers. Officials did not say if he would speak.


Associated Press writers in Moscow, Russia, Istanbul, Turkey and Havana, Cuba, contributed to this report.