R E G I O N: South Asian workers mark Labour Day
KATHMANDU: People across South Asia attended mostly peaceful rallies to mark May Day on Sunday, some calling for improved wages and workers’ rights, some demanding democracy, and others urging a global nuclear ban.
In the biggest show of strength since King Gyanendra seized power in February, thousands attended two trouble-free marches in the Nepalese capital calling for an end to his direct rule and a return to democracy.
Nearly 2,000 people participated in the first rally and another 8,000 in the second march through the city, chanting: “We want democracy, down with autocracy!”
Gyanendra on Saturday lifted a three-month-old state of emergency, but retained direct rule.
In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, about 5,000 workers rallied to demand a minimum monthly wage of 3,000 takas and better safety standards, just weeks after a garment factory collapsed, killing 73 workers. There is no minimum wage in the poverty-stricken nation where inexperienced workers earn on average from 800 to 1,200 takas per month. “It’s a question of survival. We want the new guideline immediately to save our workers,” Shirin Akter, a labour rights activist, told the news agency. In Cambodia, about 120 trade unionists gathered in the capital for a May Day ceremony to honour a slain labour leader.
Meanwhile, in a May Day message, military rulers in Myanmar warned of “neocolonialist” attempts to tarnish the country’s image and cause disunity.
Myanmar workers should be aware of “the neocolonialists’ and their stooges’ slanders and false accusations” against the country “under the pretext of serving workers’ interests with the intention of breaking up unity, and should ward off the conspiracies,” the Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported, quoting Sr. Gen. Than Shwe.
The UN International Labour Organisation, the US State Department and Amnesty International have all accused Myanmar’s ruling junta of using forced labour. Meanwhile, Military-ruled Myanmar attacked the European Union and the United States on Sunday for depriving thousands of its people of jobs through sanctions.
“The neo-colonialists using their stooges under the guise of workers are resorting to various means to harm the interest of Myanmar and her workers,” junta leader Senior General Than Shwe said in a speech marking Labour Day. “Their acts of sabotage have tarnished and discredited the dignity of Myanmar workers, and caused loss of jobs resulting in economic and social sufferings,” Than Shwe added in remarks carried in all state newspapers. Myanmar says more than 80,000 garment factory workers have lost their jobs due to international sanctions. At the same time, Commandos and 4,000 police deployed across Sri Lanka’s capital on Sunday to protect Labour Day rallies, which were marred 12 years ago by the assassination of a president.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to take part in the rallies. Commandoes from the Special Task Force, a highly trained anti-terrorist outfit, will help the armed policemen if needed, said Deputy Inspector General of Police Sirisena Herath. Some 900 traffic police have also been deployed to guide 11 processions that will be brought out during the day. ap