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Turkey: Hundreds detained at May Day rallies in Istanbul

May 1, 2024

Police blocked off parts of Turkey's largest city and used tear gas and rubber bullets to stop demonstrations. There were also clashes and angry scenes at other workers' rallies worldwide.

Union members clash with Turkish anti riot police officers as they march during Labor Day celebrations in Istanbul
Police were deployed across Istanbul, blocking even small sidestreets with metal barriers in an attempt to prevent protesters gatheringImage: Emrah Gurel/AP Photo/picture alliance

Turkish police on Wednesday arrested more than 200 people who tried to reach Istanbul's historic Taksim Square for May 1 rallies, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.

Police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse thousands of protesters who defied a ban on celebrating International Workers' Day there.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had outlawed the annual protest on Taksim Square, but the leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, called for the rally to go ahead.

Anti riot police officers stand guard blocking routes in Istanbul used by workers in May Day protests
Main roads in Istanbul were closed and public transportation was halted due to a security clampdownImage: Emrah Gurel/AP Photo/picture alliance

More than 42,000 police officers were deployed to keep order in the city, Yerlikaya said.

Ozel and Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who was reelected this year on a CHP ticket, joined a march towards Taksim Square, but organizers stopped several miles away as routes were blocked.

Some protesters clashed with security forces as they tried to breach the barricades.

"If May 1 is not celebrated in the country's main square, democracy is in trouble. This struggle will continue until Taksim is free," Ozel said earlier.

The Constitutional Court ruled at the end of last year that a ban of demonstrations in Taksim Square violated the right to peaceful assembly. 

Skirmishes in France and the Philippines

There were also sporadic clashes between police and some demonstrators in the French capital, Paris. 

Thousands of demonstrators marched to demand better wages and working conditions. Anti-Olympic protesters and pro-Palestinian activists were also present. 

Members of the motorized violent action repression police brigades, stand on position as demonstrators march in Paris
Police fired tear gas as thousands of protesters marched through the French capitalImage: Sarah Meyssonnier/REUTERS

Some demonstrators set Olympic rings on fire to oppose the Summer Games, which start in Paris in less than three months. France's unions have warned of a strike during the Games if the government does not adequately compensate people working during Europe's summer holidays.

Security forces also blocked Filipino workers and left-wing activists marching in Manila from getting close to the presidential palace.

Policemen try to block activists as they tried to march in Manila
Workers in the Philippines demanded wage increases and job security amid soaring food and oil pricesImage: Basilio Sepe/AP Photo/picture alliance

In South Korea's capital, Seoul, thousands of protesters criticized President Yoon Suk Yeol's conservative government for anti-labor policies.

"In the past two years under the Yoon Suk Yeol government, the lives of our laborers have plunged into despair," Yang Kyung-soo, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said in a speech.

They were especially critical of Yoon's veto of a bill limiting companies' right to seek compensation for damages caused by union strikes. 

Workers from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) at a May Day rally in Seoul
Protesters shouted pro-labor slogans at a rally in SeoulImage: Soo-hyeon Kim/REUTERS

There was also a large demonstration in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, during which tens of thousands of demonstrators voiced their concerns about rising electricity prices and tax hikes affecting professionals and small businesses.

In Nigeria, labor unions criticized the government's efforts to ease the cost of living. They demanded higher salary increases to help deal with rising inflation, which at over 33% is the highest seen in the country for 28 years. 

During May Day rallies in Nairobi, Kenyan President William Ruto called for an increase to the country's minimum wage.

Bonus and tax exemptions in Brazil and Venezuela

In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro announced exactly that, promising public employees $130 per month in bonuses at an event marking International Workers' Day.

"We are going to recover the income of workers, the income of the country, step by step," he said, months ahead of presidential elections in which he is seeking a third term.

In Argentina, unions galvanized crowds to vent their rage over libertarian President Javier Milei's economic policies, which they say benefit the wealthy while inflicting pain on the poor and middle classes.

"Paying rent is difficult, buying rice is difficult, everything under this guy [Milei] is difficult," 40-year-old garbage collector Leandro Rosas told the Associated Press news agency.

In Brazil, President Lula da Silva ratified a law extending income tax exemptions to those earning up to $544 a month.

"In our country there will be no tax breaks to favor the richest, but to favor those who work and live off their wages," Lula told a crowd in the sweltering sun at a football stadium in Sao Paulo.

German unions warns over economic measures 

Demonstrations in several German cities were mostly peaceful. 

In the capital, Berlin police temporarily halted a demonstration of the German Trade Union Confederation as pro-Palestinian chants and banners were being displayed. Germany has banned or restricted pro-Palestinian demonstrations since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, often citing fears they could lead to incitement to hatred and anti-Semitic statements.

In Stuttgart, police broke up a demonstration by left-wing protesters after attacks on police officers. Officers responded with pepper spray and batons.

Police and protesters clash during a May Day rally in Stuttgart
There were also clashes between police in protesters in the German city of StuttgartImage: Christoph Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

Earlier in the day, an open trailer carrying people celebrating May Day overturned in the village of Kandern in the country's southwest. None of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening.

Meanwhile, German trade union leaders used the occasion to call for social justice and reforms to the strict "debt brake," which caps government borrowing.

Frank Werneke, the chairman of the trade union Verdi, demanded that the measure be reformed or suspended in favor of greater investment in public services and climate adaptation.

"Urgently needed investments in infrastructure, local and long-distance public transport, and education are no longer taking place or remain piecemeal," Werneke said. "The debt brake is a brake on the future," he added.

There has been a prevailing mood of economic gloom in Germany, as businesses struggle with raised energy costs, high inflation, and elevated interest rates.

lo/nm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)