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Protests and celebrations mark Women’s Day, despite threats

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Pakistani activists take part in an International Women’s Day rally in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, March 8, 2020. Pakistanis held rallies across the country. Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, it is celebrated around the world on March 8. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry)

NEW YORK (AP) — From the streets of Manila to the plazas of Santiago, Chile, people around the world marked International Women’s Day on Sunday with calls to end exploitation and increase equality.

But tensions marred some celebrations, with police reportedly using tear gas to break up a demonstration by thousands of women in Turkey and security forces arresting demonstrators at a rally in Kyrgyzstan.

“In many different ways or forms, women are being exploited and taken advantage of,” Arlene Brosas, the representative of a Filipino advocacy group said during a rally that drew hundreds to the area near the presidential palace. Protesters called for higher pay and job security, and demanded that President Rodrigo Duterte respect women’s rights.

Turkish riot police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators who, in defiance of a government ban, tried to march along Istanbul’s main pedestrian street to mark International Women’s Day, media reports said.

Turkish authorities declared Istiklal street, near Istanbul’s main Taksim square, off-limits, and said the planned march down the avenue was unauthorized. Thousands of demonstrators, most of them women, gathered near Istiklal regardless and tried to break through police barricades to reach it, according to the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper and other media.

The independent T24 news website said police also fired blanks to disperse the crowd.

Several demonstrators were detained, according to Cumhuriyet.

Turkish authorities have restricted protests in the country in recent years, citing security. Police had set up barricades on all streets leading to Istiklal and closed down the nearest subway stop.

In Pakistan, however, women managed to rally in cities across the country, despite petitions filed in court seeking to stop them. The opposition was stirred in part by controversy over a slogan used in last year’s march: “My Body, My Choice.”

Some conservative groups had threatened to stop this year’s marches by force. But Pakistani officials pledged to protect the marchers. The rallies are notable in a conservative country where women often do not feel safe in public places because of open harassment. The main Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, organized its own rallies to counter the march.

In Brazil, protests took a political turn, with many of the tens of thousands of protesters in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia denouncing the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has made comments seen by many as offensive to women.

A group of women, their mouths covered in a blood-colored hand print, performed a dance in commemoration of Marielle Franco, the black Rio state councilwoman that was killed in 2018. Two years have gone by and the mastermind of the attack against the leftist politician and LGBT activist has yet to be found.

One of the largest demonstrations occurred in Chile, where crowds thousands flooded the streets of the capital with dancing, music and angry demands for gender equality and an end to violence against women.

“They kill us, they rape us and nobody does anything,” some chanted.

National police estimated 125,000 took part in the capital and nearly 35,000 in other cities, but organizers said the crowds were far larger. Scattered clashes broke out at points when demonstrators threw rocks at police, who responded with water cannon.

Many protesters demanded that a proposed new constitution strengthen rights for women and thousands wore green scarves in a show of support for activists in neighboring Argentina, which is considering a proposal to legalize elective abortion.

Tens of thousands of women also marched through Paris, inveighing against the “virus of the patriarchy.”

“Enough impunity!” chanted some activists, who focused on France’s unusually high rate of women killed by their husbands. Last year, one woman was killed every two or three days by a current or former partner, and the government is increasing efforts to crack down on domestic violence.

“They should provide resources for shelters for women, victim of violence, real resources, human resources, also prevention programs for violent men,” union activist Julia Parbotin said.

Tens of thousands of women also marched in Madrid and other Spanish cities, despite concern over the spread of the new coronavirus.

A massive banner reading, “With rights, without barriers. Feminists without frontiers” in Spanish was carried at the front of the march in the capital.

Spanish health authorities said did not put any restrictions on the march, but recommended that anyone with symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus stay home. Authorities said 120,000 people participated in Madrid’s march, down from 350,000 last year.

At a school in East London, meanwhile, the duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, joined students in listening to speeches about women labor activists, and urged both girls and boys to respect the contributions of women every day of the year.

“For young men … you have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life — protect them. Make sure they are feeling valued and safe,” she told the students.

But safety was in short supply at some events to mark the day.

The detonation of explosives triggered panic at a ceremony in Bamenda, an English-speaking town in the northwest of Cameroon. Suspicions focused on separatists who had vowed to disrupt the events. No one was killed or wounded.

Police in Bishek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, detained about 60 people after a group of unidentified men broke up what authorities called an unauthorized rally.

Demonstrators had gathered in the city’s main square to express support for women’s and children’s rights. But unidentified men barged into the gathering. Police said people from both sides were detained, but news reports said they were primarily women. They were released several hours later, after about 10 had been charged with resisting police, the Akipress news agency reported, citing an attorney.

In Nicaragua, where authorities have banned opposition protests since September 2018, police surrounded and blocked two groups of women at a church and human rights office who had planned to stage a demonstration.

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