Updated: 05/01/2014 19:51 | By Agence France-Presse

Tear gas at Turkish May Day protests, Red Square rally draws 100,000

Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse May Day protesters in Istanbul on Thursday, as millions took to the streets around the world to mark International Labour Day.


Tear gas at Turkish May Day protests, Red Square rally draws 100,000

Turkish protesters take cover as riot police fire tear gas to disperse a May Day rally near Taksim Square in Istanbul, on May 1, 2014 - by Gurcan Ozturk

About 100,000 workers paraded on Moscow's iconic Red Square for the first time since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as the annexation of Crimea triggered a surge of patriotism.

Protesters were also out in force in European countries including Italy and Greece, marching against unemployment and austerity policies. Across Asia, workers took to the streets demanding better working conditions and salary hikes.

In tense Istanbul, hundreds of riot police backed up by water cannon moved in on protesters in the Besiktas district as they tried to breach the barricades leading up to the symbolic Taksim square on the anniversary of clashes that spawned a nationwide protest movement.

A reported 40,000 police officers as well as dozens of water cannon trucks and armoured vehicles were deployed throughout Istanbul, with roughly half that number drafted into the centre to cordon off all the avenues, streets and alleys around the square.

- Red Square rally draws 100,000 -

But the most impressive show was in Russia, where a huge column of demonstrators waving Russian flags and balloons marched through Moscow's iconic square near the Kremlin and voiced their support for President Vladimir Putin and his hardline stand on the Ukraine crisis. 

"Putin is right", "Proud of the country" and "Let's support decisions of our president" read the banners carried by the smiling demonstrators, a colourful spectacle harking back to Soviet times.

May Day was a key date in the Soviet calendar, with elaborate celebrations involving ranks of marching athletes, soldiers and workers on the Moscow square, but in recent years the annual demonstrations have been relegated to a city highway.

Trade union leaders said about two million people had turned up for May Day rallies across Russia.

The tone was markedly different in Greece where thousands marched in the countries two main cities of Athens and Salonika against an austerity drive following a disastrous debt crisis that led to mass lay-offs. 

In Italy's Turin, scuffles broke out between police and hundreds of protesters.

Activists lobbed smoke bombs at police, who charged against demonstrators in the northern industrial city, which has been badly hit by a painful two-year recession.

Rallies also took place across Asia, including in Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Taipei.

In Cambodia, security forces armed with sticks and batons forcibly dispersed dozens of May Day protesters near Phnom Penh's Freedom Park, according to an AFP photographer.

Several people were beaten.

The park, opened by the government in 2010 as a designated area for people to air their grievances, was closed off by police with barbed wire as the authorities sought to clamp down on protests against long-ruling strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen.

- 'We are not slaves' -

In Indonesia, protestors carrying portraits of leftist idols such as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and the country's first president Sukarno, marched to the state palace in Jakarta.

Some sang and danced as others carried a three-metre-long toy octopus wearing a red hat with the words "Capitalist Octopus, Sucking the Blood of Workers."

More than 1,000 protesters gathered in Hong Kong's landmark Victoria Park to walk towards the government headquarters waving colourful flags and placards, while singing a Chinese version of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from the musical Les Miserables, while calling for better working conditions and wages. 

Domestic helper rights concern groups, which made up a large portion of the rally, wore masks with a picture of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian maid who was allegedly abused by her employer for months, while shouting: "We are workers, we are not slaves". 

About 20,000 people rallied in Kuala Lumpur against price hikes implemented by Malaysia's long-ruling government, which already is under domestic and international scrutiny over its handling of the passenger jet that disappeared on March 8.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim addressed the rally denouncing the "systematic oppression of the people". 

More than 10,000 workers marched to the labour ministry in Taiwan's capital Taipei demanding wage hikes and a ban on companies hiring cheap temporary or part-time workers.

In Singapore, a protest organised by critics of the government’s immigration and labour policy drew around 400 protestors chanting slogans calling for the long-ruling People's Action Party to step down.

Organiser Gilbert Goh said it was intended to display Singaporeans' continued dissatisfaction with the large foreign population in the city-state.

Singaporeans make up just over 60 percent of the country's 5.4 million population.

"When we speak up for the country, we are branded as xenophobes, " he told AFP, referring to recent accusations that he is fanning anti-foreigner sentiment in the city-state.

In Seoul around 5,000 workers were expected to rally outside Seoul railway station in the afternoon but this year's gathering has been overshadowed by the ferry disaster that has claimed the lives of hundreds of people, many of them schoolchildren.

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