TOKYO -- Police fired water cannons to disperse raucous demonstrators in the Philippines, and students clashed with authorities in South Korea as labor tensions flared today during May Day celebrations.
In Manila, several protesters and a firefighter were injured after demonstrators threw rocks and tried to break through police lines in the direction of Malacanang presidential palace.
Police retaliated with water canons against the hundreds of leftist demonstrators. Seven members of a labor group were arrested.
Leftist labor groups claim President Joseph Estrada has followed pro-employer policies despite campaign promises to side with labor in the fight against poverty.
Violence also erupted in South Korea, where authorities tried to prevent militant students from joining a rally by workers in downtown Seoul.
Witnesses said 300 students scuffled with riot police, hurling rocks and wielding sticks.
The mood was more placid in Japan, where the rallies are usually more like picnics than protests, but the country's near record high unemployment added a sense of urgency.
''We are determined to make the greatest effort to achieve stable employment,'' Etsuya Washio, chairman of the Japan Trade Union Confederation, told a crowd in a downtown Tokyo park.
An estimated 1.7 million people attended more than a thousand rallies nationwide.
Unemployment in Japan rose to a record high of 4.9 percent in March -- and things may get worse for Japanese workers before they get better as their employers push ahead with restructuring and downsizing.
In Sri Lanka, a nation whose president was assassinated on May Day seven years ago, tensions ran high as 7,000 police blocked traffic and watched over workers parading through Colombo.
During a May Day rally in 1993 President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger rebel riding an explosive-packed bicycle.
In Hong Kong, where unemployment remains severe despite the territory's impressive rebound from a 15-month recession, 100 protesters marched to the downtown government headquarters carrying a coffin bearing a picture of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
They smashed several rice bowls, the traditional symbol of workers' livelihood.
''Our talents are wasted because no one wants to put them to good use,'' they chanted. ''Workers are heading to the coffins.''
In Beijing, however, May Day was marked more peacefully.
Most Chinese had the day off and headed for parks or visited friends and relatives. The main event was a flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square, which was attended by some of the 3,000 people recently named as model workers by the government.
State-run newspapers urged ordinary Chinese to follow the example of the diverse group, which includes customs officers and grade-school teachers.
In Germany, 300 far-right youths waving anti-foreigner signs held a May Day rally in a depressed section of Berlin surrounded by hundreds of police deployed to prevent clashes with radical leftist counter-demonstrators.
The mostly young men carried signs calling for the expulsion of foreigners and ''work for Germans first.''
Events in Russia were muted, with Boris Yeltsin -- the favorite target of past Communist demonstrations -- in retirement.
Small parades of trade unionists and Communists marched across the former Soviet Union. Slogans tended toward demands for higher social benefits and minimum wages.
In Cambodia, more than a thousand of the low-paid workers employed by the country's burgeoning garment industry took to the streets of Phnom Penh to protest against poor labor conditions.
The garment workers, who barely earn more than a dollar a day, marched through the capital, stopping outside government offices and foreign embassies to chant demands for higher minimum wage and improved factory conditions.
North Korean newspapers, meanwhile, dedicated editorials to ''workers the world over'' but gave special recognition to their own.
''The Korean working class has successfully discharged its sacred mission and duty as the leading class of revolution,'' the Rodong Sinmun wrote, according to North Korean state media.
In Cuba, the communist government called on millions of its citizens to turn out today for celebrations designed as a crescendo in the campaign to return 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his homeland.
In Havana alone, hundreds of thousands were expected to crowd the Plaza of the Revolution for the first speech by President Fidel Castro at a May Day celebration in many years.
During May 1 gatherings in recent decades, Castro has presided over massive marches of workers but has left the podium to labor leaders and other top officials.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.