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Asian workers rally on May Day for higher wages, slam government policies

Asian workers rally on May Day for higher wages, slam government policies

Thousands of workers and activists took to Asia's streets Tuesday to mark May Day in mostly peaceful rallies for higher wages and better working conditions.
Some protests denounced political leaders for trade and labor policies. Security was heavy in some cities, especially in Southeast Asia. Other events were more festive, including a friendly soccer match between North and South Korean workers.
In China, Communist Party chief Hu Jintao met with wheat farmers, police and a model worker in central Henan province.
But in a sign of how far the party and China's economy have moved from revolutionary orthodoxy, the model worker was not an ordinary laborer but a senior engineer at an industrial conglomerate.
People's Daily, the party's flagship newspaper, mixed a traditional salute to "the working class as masters of the nation" with an updated appeal: "Our working class must raise its quality to meet the demands of the new era."
In the Chinese territory of Macau, police fired shots into the air and used pepper spray to disperse protesters who tried to break through police lines blocking a labor march. There were no reported injuries. At least five marchers protesting illegal workers from mainland China and corruption were taken away by police.
In Seoul, about 7,000 people gathered in a university district under cloudy skies and occasional light rain, carrying banners and shouting slogans against the labor and trade policies of President Roh Moo-hyun.
Labor unions are angry at Roh for concluding a free trade deal with the United States, which they say will cost jobs and harm livelihoods, as well as for labor policies they say encourage companies to utilize part-time workers instead of hiring permanent staff.
In the Philippines, riot police on the highest state of alert blocked thousands of protesters who tried to march toward President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's residence to demand higher wages and her removal from office.
Separately, about 5,000 people massed in a downtown Manila square. Led by the left-wing May First Movement, they accused Arroyo of granting incentives to businessmen but neglecting lowly paid workers.
"Arroyo favored only the business sector, she despised working sectors," the group said.
At a gathering of moderate labor groups in Manila, Arroyo unveiled a package of benefits for government and private-sector workers, including salary loans, low-cost housing and scholarships.
Laborers in Indonesia rallied across the sprawling archipelago, including the capital, Jakarta, where they called for safer working conditions, a doubling of basic wages and tax exemptions for low-income families.
"Workers unite," protesters chanted at the heavily guarded Presidential Palace. "We can't be defeated." Police said about 21,000 officers, some armed with batons and shields, patrolled the streets of the capital.
Union leader Dita Indah Sari said the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono "has failed in creating jobs and improving the welfare for workers."
Workers in Pakistan demanded better wages, education and health facilities, and urged the government to take steps to abolish bonded labor.
"The government merely announces a holiday when May Day comes around, and it makes promises, but the majority of the workers are facing the same problems they did years ago," Manzoor Razi, leader of a union of power industry workers, told a rally in Karachi.
About 42,000 people participated in a rally against widening income inequality in Japan at a May Day event in a central Tokyo park, according to Kyodo News agency. Smaller rallies were organized by labor unions in 374 cities and towns across Japan.
In Singapore, opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister completed a 55-hour walk around the island nation in a bid to raise awareness of poverty and underpaid workers.
"Increase Pay for Workers, Not Ministers," read the front of Chee Soon Juan's T-shirt, referring to hefty salary increases planned for government ministers.
In the South Korean city of Changwon, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Seoul, workers from North and South Korea played a friendly soccer match in front of about 2,000 people. Each side included workers from the divided states.
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Associated Press writers Charles Hutzler in Beijing, Zakki Hakim in Jakarta, Sylvia Hui in Macau, Jim Gomez in Manila, Maye-E Wong in Singapore, Hiroko Tabuchi in Tokyo and Zarar Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.