Citizens and unions have demonstrated around the world to mark May Day, sending messages of protest to their governments and calling for peace in Ukraine.
It is a time of great emotion for the participants and their causes, and Sunday’s May Day marches were no different with police at the ready as street demonstrations commemorated International Workers’ Day, or May Day.
The war in Ukraine was also front and center in this year’s May Day messages, with national leaders and union officials calling for peace and also warning that Russia’s war could spread further into Europe.
Turkish police moved quickly in Istanbul and surrounded protesters near Taksim Square, the site in 1977 where 34 people were killed during a May Day event when shots were fired into the crowd from a nearby building.
The Istanbul governor’s office said police detained 164 people for demonstrating without permits and resisting police in the square. An official May Day gathering in the city also drew thousands of participants singing, chanting and waving banners, a rally organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.
Tens of thousands of people marched in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government.
As part of the protests marking May Day, protesters waved red flags and chanted slogans outside the president’s offices, renewing their call for him and his brother, who is the prime minister, to resign due to an economic crisis without precedent that has seen Sri Lanka suffer from shortages. of fuel, gas and medicines, as well as the increase in food prices.
Rajapaksa has been forced indoors for the past three weeks at the heavily barricaded President’s House, located 300 meters from his office, while protesters remain camped outside.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party was forced to cancel its May Day rally in view of the ongoing protests. Police said most government cabinet members remain under heavy police protection in their homes.
Many Chinese celebrated a quiet May Day this year as the government’s “zero-COVID” approach has restricted travel and imposed lockdowns in several cities. Millions remain restricted to their buildings or compounds in Shanghai, China’s largest city, under a lockdown that has only been slightly eased. All Beijing restaurants were closed to customers dining out on Sunday and could only offer takeout and delivery until the end of the national holiday on Wednesday.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and retired leader Raúl Castro led a large march in Havana where hundreds of thousands of Cubans lined the streets of the capital waving banners and photographs of Cuban revolutionary leaders, local media reported. The May Day marches in Cuba are full of symbolism, a celebration of 63 years of the Cuban revolution and a government-led rebuke of the Cold War-era embargo imposed on the island by the United States.
“Despite so many difficulties, the majority of Cubans support the revolutionary process. We Cubans work to fix our own problems. We do not want interference of any kind,” said Juana García, a worker at the Institute of Philosophy of Cuba, when participating in the celebrations this Sunday.
This year’s demonstrations were also the first since the July 2021 anti-government protests, the largest since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, that rocked the nation, a major test for the island’s first non-Castro-led government. since the beginning of the revolution.
The May Day demonstrations in France, which took place a week after the presidential election, were aimed at showing newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron the opposition he could face in his second five-year term in office.
Some 250 protest rallies were planned across the country, with a focus on Paris, where members of the communist-backed CGT union led the main march through the eastern parts of the city, and were joined by a handful of other unions. Everyone is pressing Macron for policies that put people first and condemning his plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.
Protesters carried banners reading “Retirement before arthritis”, “Retirement at 60, frozen prices” and “Macron go away”.
Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, but violence erupted in Paris at the start of the march near Place La Republique and when it reached Place La Nation. Anarchists dressed in black, known as “Black Bloc”, looted a McDonald’s restaurant in Place Leon Blum and vandalized several real estate agencies. Windows were smashed and dumpsters were set on fire.
Police said activists had even attacked firefighters trying to put out the fires. Police responded by firing tear gas.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen was absent for the first time from her party’s traditional wreath laying ceremony at the foot of a statue of Joan of Arc, whom her party uses as a nationalist symbol. She was replaced by the interim president of her National Grouping party, Jordan Bardella, who said that Le Pen was preparing for the next legislative elections.
Peace was an underlying theme on May Day, with calls to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.
In Italy, an open-air mega-concert was scheduled for Rome and Italy’s three main unions concentrated their main rally in the hilltop city of Assisi, a frequent destination for peace protests.
This year’s motto was “Working for Peace”.
Metro trains ground to a halt and ships docked at ports as thousands of workers joined May Day demonstrations in the Greek capital to protest rising energy and food prices.
Police estimate some 10,000 people marched in central Athens and rallied outside the Greek parliament over the cost of living they say is becoming unaffordable: Gas and electricity bills have risen, with price hikes exacerbated by sanctions against Russia following its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“It is very hard, and every day it is harder for the workers. We will fight it, because the working class can no longer survive,” said Katerina Dekaristou, a teacher, standing in front of parliament.
In a May Day speech, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev warned that there is a risk that the war in Ukraine will spread across Europe, and even the world.
“The risk of the war becoming a pan-European and even global war [war] it’s real,” Radev said.
He said the explosions are echoing in the “heart of Europe”.
“Our homes, our children, our homeland and nature can be victims of this escalation,” he warned.
Considered pro-Russian, Radev went on to say that it was a “patriotic duty” not to allow Bulgaria to get involved in the Ukraine war. Therefore, he opposes Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who wants to send weapons from Bulgaria to Ukraine. The National Assembly in Sofia will weigh the possibility of sending military aid to kyiv on Wednesday.
May Day celebrations in Germany also focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine along with more traditional social themes.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that the war in Ukraine could lead to a global food crisis during his speech at a rally in Düsseldorf.
“This war will have consequences, consequences throughout the world,” he predicted.
“We already have to worry that there are those who are starving, that there are countries that can no longer afford grain for their people, that this whole war situation also leads to a world hunger crisis,” Scholz continued, referring to the fact . that Ukraine, one of the world’s great bread baskets, is largely unable to export its grain because of the war.
Scholz also promised Ukraine more humanitarian aid and military support, and had a personal message for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I make a call to the Russian president: Let the weapons be silent! Withdraw your troops! Respect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine!”
Other May Day protests were scheduled, including in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, where students and others planned to demonstrate in support of Ukraine.