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Dust settles after global day of May Day protests

Dust settles after global day of May Day protests

From Cuba to Norway, Melbourne to Mexico City, the dust was settling early on Wednesday after a day of occasionally violent protests by anti-capitalists, trade unions and others swept the globe.

Hundreds were detained after skirmishes with police marred protests in Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Britain, while a rally in Havana lampooning U.S. President George W. Bush drew the highest unofficial attendance with millions hitting the streets.

Germany saw some of its worst May Day riots for a decade. Police there fired teargas and water cannons at thousands of protesters in Berlin and Frankfurt after being pelted with bottles and stones.

In Sydney and Melbourne, stock exchanges were blocked by opponents of globalisation, and in London thousands of anti-capitalists blocked a busy shopping district before a small group ran amok smashing windows of banks and high street stores.

The actions were inspired by violent street protests against the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999 and summits in Prague last year and Quebec City last month.

Protesters argue that multinational companies wield too much power over people's lives, exerting undue influence over policy set by democratically elected governments.

The McDonald's fast food chain has often been the target of such action, and Tuesday was no exception.

One of its Melbourne restaurants was forced to close after its was daubed with painted slogans "McFilth" and "McCrap".

NOT ALL ANTI-CAPITALIST

Capitalism and globalisation were not the only targets of May Day demonstrations.

Violence involving thousands of left-wing activists in Frankfurt was triggered by a neo-Nazi skinhead march there. Five police officers were injured, while 55 protesters were detained and 31 others arrested.

In Russia, news agencies quoted police as saying that over 300,000 people had attended 480 marches without major incident in the world's largest country spanning 11 times zones.

An estimated 50,000 people took part in May Day rallies across Siberia and the Far East demanding higher wages, better working conditions, improved pensions and price controls. Marchers carried banners proclaiming "We need a second Stalin".

In Mexico City it was President Vicente Fox's controversial plan to extend the country's 15 percent value-added tax to food and medicine which sparked the most fury.

Cuba, meanwhile, focused on governments which voted to censure Cuba recently at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. A puppet parade culminated, predictably, with a grotesque-looking caricature of Bush.

Communist leader Fidel Castro looked on with a smirk, and said that the U.S. government was seeking, via the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, a "gigantic annexation" of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In South Korea about 20,000 workers faced 15,000 riot police in Seoul to protest against government economic restructuring and a harsh police crackdown on car workers in April.

In Taiwan, thousands of unemployed workers and union activists marched through Taipei, demanding jobs and the resignation of top government officials.

Thousands of Iranian workers marched to the parliament to protest against high unemployment and to demand tougher action against illegal foreign labourers.

In Zimbabwe, thousands of workers gathered for a May Day rally seen as a test of the government's ability to win key labour votes ahead of presidential polls expected next year.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of workers staged protests against high unemployment.

CREAM PIE "EPIDEMIC"

In Oslo, protesters threw a cream pie in the face of Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland.

"Cream pie throwing has become an epidemic," the minister said, laughing off the attack during a May Day rally.

But demonstrators did not have it all their own way.

A huge police presence in London saw rallies by up to 5,000 anti-capitalists largely contained. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence, with riot police, some on horseback, using batons to break up smaller groups.

Demonstrators smashed windows of banks and department stores in the late evening as the main protests were breaking up, and around 60 arrests were made.

Despite the limited damage to London property, the cost in lost business to the city of seven million, one of the world's largest financial centres, was considerable.

The City of Westminster, which encompasses much of central London, estimated the loss in revenue to businesses due to the protests at 20 million pounds ($29 million).


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