May Day

Workers flood the streets in May Day celebrations

Reuters/Murad Sezer

Millions of workers took to the streets around the world on Sunday in traditional May Day parades. In France, five major labour unions planned around 200 marches across the country including one in eastern Paris to call for measures to tackle the rising cost of living.

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The far-right Front National helds its first march under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the party's founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Ahead of the march, orders were issued banning skinheads haircuts and jackboots as the party tries to play down its racist image.

What is May Day?

In the Phlippines, thousands of workers and activists protested against the goverment's migrant labour policy and demanded higher wages amid rising prices for basic commodities. The marchers accused President Benigno Aquino of failing to keep his campaign promise made last year of raising the living standards of the country's workforce.

The largest parades took place in the capital, Manila, but there were also marches in the central and southern parts of the country.

Turkey's biggest city Istanbul was the scene of a massive gathering of workers to celebrate May Day in Taksim square where dozens were killed at a rally 34 years ago. Until May Day last year, Taksim square was declared off limits since a rally on the same day in 1977 when gunmen believed to be far-right militants fired on a peaceful crowd killing 33 people. The government decided to reopen the square after May Day was reinstated as a public holiday in 2009.

May Day celebrations in Hong Kong by several thousand activists coincided with the controversial introduction of a minimum wage of 2.4 euros an hour. Unions have hailed the move as a big step forward for local labour rights, while critics say it is not high enough for many low-income families struggling to make ends meet. The UN Development Programme says Hong Kong has the biggest income gap among wealthy economies.

Following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, left leaning confederations in Japan called for an end to nuclear power generation in May Day rallies in the capital, Tokyo.

"Let us stop the government from promoting nuclear power generation and seek a change to energy police," said Sakuji Daikoku, head of the National Conferedation of Trade Unions, Zenroren. Another rally held in Tokyo, sponsored by a smaller labour union, Zenrokyo, also raised the nuclear issue.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government used May Day rallies to reject a United Nations report that alleged the military may have carried out atrocities during the island's civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to attend several demonstrations in Colombo with President Mahinda Rajapakse due to address followers of his United People Freedom Alliance in the evening.

The government has repeatedly denied any right violations and refused to allow the three-member UN panel of experts who wrote the report access to the country.

In Seoul at least 50,000 workers gathered to chant slogans calling for higher pay and better job security and to slam the conservative administration while protesters in Indonesia called for better social security, turning out in their thousands to chant slogans such as "the country is rich but the people are poor".

In Greece, some 15,000 took to the streets in different cities to rally against austerity measures imposed amid the country's economic crisis. Greek unions have called for a general strike on May 11 to oppose the measures, but Prime Minister George Papandreou in his May Day message called for everyone to support the big changes that the country needs.

And in Portugal, another country facing economic crisis, union activists said they hoped to draw 60,000 to 80,000 to the streets for protests against austerity measures expected to be imposed under a European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout plan.

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