Image: Protesters clash with policemen during riots at a May Day rally in Athens
Panagiotis Tzamaros  /  ICON via Reuters
Protesters clash with police during riots at a May Day rally in Athens, Greece, on Saturday.
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updated 5/1/2010 4:59:58 PM ET 2010-05-01T20:59:58

Tens of thousands of workers marched in cities from Hong Kong to Istanbul Saturday to mark international worker's day, demanding more jobs, better work conditions and higher wages.

About 140,000 jubilant workers gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square in the first celebrations at the site since dozens of people died there in a May 1 gathering more than three decades ago.

The demonstrations in Istanbul, which sits on both European and Asian continents, marked a special victory for the Turkish unions, which had been denied access to the Taksim Square since 1977, when 34 people died after shooting triggered a stampede. The culprits were never found and workers on Saturday demanded an inquiry into the deaths of the demonstrators.

Most of the annual May Day marches were peaceful, but in the Chinese territory of Macau police used water cannons and pepper spray against rowdy protesters who tried to break away from the approved route. Hong Kong radio RTHK reported at least eight people injured, including a photographer.

Athens also witnessed riots, with police using tear gas to disperse demonstrators who threw firebombs and stones in a large May Day rally against austerity measures needed to secure loans for near-bankrupt Greece. In Switzerland, Zurich police used water cannons in an attempt to disperse dozens of stone-throwing protesters as unions and politicians protested against "excessive" Swiss banking bonuses.

German police detained 250 neo-Nazis who attempted to attack them in downtown Berlin, while they braced for further clashes after sundown.

Massive turnouts
Nadine Pusch, a spokeswoman for Berlin police, said 7,000 officers were scattered throughout the city in an effort to ensure peaceful demonstrations.

Overnight in Hamburg, 17 officers were injured in clashes on the eve of May 1 and at least nine demonstrators were detained, the German news agency ddp reported Saturday.

The turnout in Cuba was massive, as expected, and authorities claimed the march by hundreds of thousands of Cubans amounted to approval of the island's communist system amid mounting international criticism over human rights.

Thousands joined peaceful May Day marches in Stockholm, where opposition leader Mona Sahlin blamed the center-right government for failing to stem rising unemployment and eroding the nation's cherished welfare system. Sahlin is hoping to become Sweden's first female prime minister after national elections in September.

Several thousand demonstrators in Paris also took to the streets amid concerns about conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to overhaul the pension system.

In Manila, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced she had ordered the labor secretary to speed up negotiations between unions and employers on a 75-peso ($1.67) increase in daily minimum wage.

In Indonesia's capital, thousands of workers marched on the presidential palace, shouting: "Workers unite! No more layoffs!" Rally organizer Bayu Ajie said a free-trade agreement with China had cost jobs, decreased wages and encouraged corruption. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to create safer working conditions and improve job prospects if the workers maintained political and economic stability.

Thousands of Communist demonstrators, carrying red balloons, red Soviet flags and portraits of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, called for the Russian government's resignation over rising prices and unemployment in Moscow. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov led hundreds of opposition activists in a separate rally. They also called for the ouster of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom they accuse of stamping out democracy. A few thousands also rallied in Ukraine's capital.

Wealth in the hands of a few
In Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo and Taiwan, thousands marched for better working conditions and permanent jobs. Jeong Ho-hee, spokesman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union, vowed to fight against long working hours and high death rate related to industrial accidents.

In the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, several hundred workers protested a proposed 4 percent goods and services tax while about 1,000 protesters, including janitors, construction workers and bus drivers, demanded the government in Hong Kong to introduce a minimum wage of 33 Hong Kong dollars ($4.30).

This freewheeling capitalist Chinese enclave is one of the world's wealthiest cities, but critics say its wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.

"A lunch box at a fast-food restaurant costs about HK$30 ($4). It's an insult if you can't afford a lunch box after working for an hour," pro-democracy legislator Leung Yiu-chung said on the sidelines of Saturday's protests.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: May Day rallies around the world

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  1. Thousands of demonstrators attend a May Day rally at Taksim square in central Istanbul on Saturday, May 1. Rallies to mark international workers' day were held here for the first time since the late 1970s, when unknown gunmen massacred dozens of people. Rallies were held in cities across the globe to call attention to workers' conditions. (Murad Sezer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A riot policeman jumps over metal railings after being set on fire by protesters throwing petrol bombs in Athens. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in central Athens and other Greek cities for May Day rallies fueled by anger at the government's expected harsh austerity measures needed to secure rescue loans for the near-bankrupt country. (Evi Zoupanou / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Protesters clash with policemen during riots in Athens. (Panagiotis Tzamaros / ICON via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Riot police arrest a protester during May Day demonstration in Zurich, Switzerland. (Christian Hartmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Police cars with fences block protesters during a May Day demonstration in Zurich. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A Dutch policeman and his dog arrest a demonstrator in front of the city hall in Rotterdam at the end of a May Day march. (Ed Oudenaarden / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Riot police fire water cannon toward protesters during a May Day demonstration in Macau, a Chiense territory. (Bobby Yip / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A protester braves pepper spray during a May Day protest in Macau against illegal labor. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A man helps Maria do Carmo Correia, a Portuguese Agencia Lusa photographer injured during a May Day confrontation between protesters and riot police, in Macau. (Bobby Yip / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Indonesian laborers burn an effigy of a rat symbolizing corruption during a May Day rally outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Irwin Fedriansyah / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A protester from the labor union Kasbi runs as police disperse a crowd with water cannons during a May Day rally in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta. (Supri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Laborers wear chains and chant slogans as they protest against bonded labor in Pakistan. (Mohsin Raza / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Supports of the Democratic National Alliance opposition party cheer during a May Day rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Leicester Morrismen dance at Bradgate Park in Newtown Linford, central England. The May Day Morris celebration is a traditional rite thought to be connected to changing seasons and fertility. (Darren Staples / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Communist party supporters pack up the portraits of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, left, and the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, right, after a rally marking May Day in Minsk, Belarus. (Dmitry Brushko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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