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Thousands of Asians rally for jobs, pay on May Day

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[May 01, 2010]  JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- Tens of thousands of workers thronged the streets of Asian cities Saturday in annual May Day marches, demanding job creation, better work conditions and wage hikes.

Most of the demonstrations marking international workers' day 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.

About 1,000 workers were marching in protest of inflation and illegal labor. Television footage from Hong Kong's Cable TV showed protesters toppling metal barricades and shoving them toward riot police wearing helmets and wielding shields. The demonstrators also hurled stones and empty water bottles at the officers, Hong Kong's Commercial Radio reported.

Hong Kong radio RTHK reported at least eight people injured, including a photographer. It wasn't immediately clear whether Macau police made any arrests.

Elsewhere in Asia, the marchers wore matching T-shirts and headbands, carried banners and chanted in support of workers' rights.

In Pyongyang, officials laid flowers at statues of North Korea's late founder. In Manila, hundreds of workers demanded wage increases while carrying banners supporting their candidates in the May 10 elections. 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 wearing matching union T-shirts of red, black and blue marched on the presidential palace, through streets guarded by some 15,000 police.

"Workers unite! No more layoffs!" the crowd shouted.

Rally organizer Bayu Ajie said the government had harmed the welfare of Indonesians by implementing policies -- such as a free trade agreement with China -- that cost jobs, decreased wages and encouraged corruption.

"This corrupt government has taken the side of the capitalists and businessmen, not us, the workers," Ajie told the crowd.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had lunch with workers at an automotive factory, where he promised to create safer working conditions and improve job prospects if the workers maintained political and economic stability.

"We want to do the best because we care for you," Yudhoyono told the factory workers.

In Seoul, South Korea, about 20,000 unionized workers attended a peaceful rally for better working conditions.

"South Korea records the longest working hours and the highest death rate related to industrial accidents among OECD countries," Jeong Ho-hee, spokesman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union, told the rally, referring to a grouping of developed countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He vowed his union would fight to improve that situation.

In Tokyo, about 32,000 workers and labor union members rallied in Yoyogi Park, wearing headbands and raising banners calling for job security.

National Confederation of Trade Unions leader Sakuji Daikoku said more than 17 million people in Japan are temporary or part-time workers. He urged companies and the government to increase full-time employment.

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"Under such working conditions, there is no hope or bright future," Daikoku said. "Let's make a change to create a society where full-time employment is the norm."

Japan's unemployment rose to 5 percent in March, with 3.5 million people jobless.

In the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, several hundred workers held a peaceful demonstration against a proposed 4 percent goods and services tax.

"We want the GST to be scrapped for good because it is a burden to the poor," said rally organizer S. Arutchelvan. "The government should increase corporate tax instead."

Police detained five people for carrying banners opposing the GST but they are expected to be freed later, Arutchelvan said.

In Hong Kong, about 1,000 protesters -- including janitors, construction workers and bus drivers -- demanded the government introduce a minimum wage of 33 Hong Kong dollars ($4.30).

"We demand reasonable pay. We demand a share in the fruits of economic success," the workers chanted at an urban park before setting off to Hong Kong government headquarters.

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.

Hong Kong's government aims to pass legislation on a minimum wage by July, Matthew Cheung, secretary for labor and welfare, said Saturday. He did not comment on a possible hourly wage level.

In Taiwan, thousands marched in Taipei to demand better pay and job security. The protesters also complained that employers are increasingly hiring temporary workers to skimp on insurance and pension payments for regular workers.

[Associated Press; By TANALEE SMITH]

Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Min Lee in Hong Kong, Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Oliver Teves in Manila, Philippines, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Annie Huang in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.

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


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