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May Day Around The World

From one of communism's last bastions to the sputtering capitalist economies of Asia, workers marked May Day on Friday with rallies honoring martyred leaders and protesting eroding labor rights.

In Cuba, 150,000 people joined President Fidel Castro in Havana's Revolution Plaza to honor a labor leader gunned down by security forces 50 years ago.

It was one of the largest rallies marking the day devoted to honoring labor. Most were peaceful, but police clashed with protesters in South Korea and Turkey.

Prostitutes rallied in India and European unions pressed for a 35-hour work week. In France, far-right supporters rivaled the main union march and neo-Nazis protested in Germany. Moscow's once mighty May Day march dwindled with nostalgic communists.

In the Cuban capital, Castro watched from a reviewing stand as workers paraded through the square sacred to revolutionaries.

Marching 40 abreast, they filed past the huge likeness of Jesus Menendez, who was assassinated by security forces on the eve of a strike in 1948. The picture occupied the same spot as a huge painting of Jesus Christ during a Jan. 25 Mass led by Pope John Paul II.

Cuban officials billed the march as a denunciation of the U.S. economic embargo and a celebration of a recent U.N. Human Rights Commission vote to avoid condemning Cuba for the first time in years.

Cuban flags and palm leaves rose from the river of marchers, along with banners saying "Down with the Yankee Blockade!" to "For Tourism of Quality!"

Officials made no direct comparisons, but the march demonstrated that Cuban communists can still rally a large, loyal core of supporters. At least 150,000 people participated.

"This is my religion, the revolution," said Ruben Cabrera, a 51-year-old reform school teacher who awoke at 6:30 a.m. on his day off to attend the rally.

"It's a reconfirmation of the people with the Cuban revolution," said Evencio Gonzalez, a 60-year-old government official who said he had also attended the papal Mass.

Throughout economically troubled Asia, thousands of workers rallied, including hundreds of prostitutes in Calcutta who want their profession legalized in India.

In Seoul, South Korea's capital, riot police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of workers protesting layoffs. About a dozen police and protesters were injured.

In Turkey, hundreds of leftist demonstrators attacked police with stones and clubs after they were barred from a May Day rally. Police responded with water canons and truncheons. The clash injured 42 demonstrators, 28 police and four journalists.

The International Monetary Fund's pressure to enact reform and austerity drew anger from Thai workers. Among the 10,000 people who marched in Bangkok were red hats or bandannas reading: "People unite and resist the IMF threat."

Fear of globalization was a common theme in Europe, where unions demaned rejected concerns over international competition and demanded a 35-hour work week. Some criticized the drive for the euro, Europe's single currency planned for January.

About 10,000 demonstrators in Madrid noting the launching of the euro currency Friday at the European Union summit in Brussels wheeled a giant carton model of a euro coin while people lay down in it its path as if they were being trampled.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed