05/02/2008, 00.00
ASIA
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May 1st in Asia: workers protest against high inflation and low salaries

From the Philippines to Indonesia to Lebanon, tens of thousands protest over rises in prices, low salaries, and the lack of concrete action by governments. Police in riot gear to prevent disorder.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - May 1st brought widespread protests over low salaries and the cost of food, especially in southeast Asia.  In Manila, thousands marched from various regions to converge on the presidential palace Malacanang, with posters and slogans against the government of president Gloria Arroyo, and to ask for "Work, justice, and food", better salaries, and intervention against the rising prices of rice and fuel.  Many demonstrators wore rice sacks, while thousands of policemen were deployed to prevent violence, in a climate that reached moments of extremely high tension. 

Carol Araullo, of the leftist group Bayan, said that Arroyo, "even in the midst of this very severe crisis, has brought no meaningful relief" to help the population with the rising price of rice, and "people are becoming more restless", "it is a social volcano waiting to erupt".

Two thirds of the 90 million inhabitants of the country live on a dollar a day or less, and much of the rice is imported. The retail price of rice has doubled in a few months.  Yesterday, Arroyo announced a 10% rise in salaries in July, without providing any other details.

There were similar scenes in Indonesia, with more than 15,000 workers in the streets of Jakarta calling for pay increases to address the rise in prices.  The police guarded the presidential palace in riot gear and with water cannons.  Inflation in the country was at 8.17% in March, a three-year record, with sharp rises especially for rice, oil, and soya.

In Bangkok, more than two thousand people demonstrated beneath the government palace with posters like "Expensive rice prices, cheap labour wages", and "How can labourers live?". Workers are asking for minimum daily pay of at least 233 baht (4.74 euro), while today many earn less than 200 baht in Bangkok, and as little as 144 in the provinces.  They are also asking for improvements in working conditions, and for an end to the privatisation of state-run companies.

There were also protests in Singapore, headed by the opposition political leader Chee Soon Juan.  In one residential neighbourhood, they distributed flyers calling for the signing of a petition against inflation.

In South Korea, workers demonstrated against the expected free trade agreement with the United States, and the trade policies of newly elected president Lee Myung Bak.

In Lebanon, about 2,000 demonstrated against inflation and asked for significant increases in the minimum salary, from 300,000 Lebanese sterling (128 euro) to 900,000.  Prices have risen by 43% in 21 months.

In Russia, the demonstrations were peaceful, although there was no lack of protests against rising inflation.  In Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, 14,000 marched chanting "Salaries must rise higher than prices".

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