Sunday 21 January 2018

Brazil cities hit by more protests

Protestors march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP/Felipe Dana)
Protestors march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP/Felipe Dana)
A car set alight by demonstrators burns in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)
Demonstrators gather during a protest in front of the Brazilian National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Protesters have massed in at least seven Brazilian cities for another round of demonstrations voicing disgruntlement about life in the country, raising questions about security during big events such as the current Confederations Cup and a papal visit next month.

Authorities had hoped to avoid the sort of bloody confrontations that shocked Sao Paulo last week and the outpourings of dissent were mainly peaceful, but small bands of protesters broke glass trying to get into the main congressional building in Brasilia, and some demonstrators clashed with police in Rio de Janeiro.

The unrest was set off last week by anger over a hike in public transport fares, but protesters have moved beyond that issue to tap into widespread frustration in Brazil over a heavy tax burden, politicians widely viewed as corrupt and woeful public education, health and transport systems.

Police commanders had said publicly that they would try to avoid violence, but warned they could resort to force if protesters destroyed property. Officers in Rio fired tear gas and rubber bullets when a group of protesters invaded the state legislative assembly and threw rocks and flares at police. Police in the capital of Brasilia did not use force when about 200 demonstrators broke from a crowd of 3,000 and climbed up to the roof of the Congress building after shattering glass walls trying to get inside.

Tens of thousands of people turned out for a peaceful protest in Sao Paulo, where riot police had charged into another calm crowd on Thursday firing rubber bullets and tear gas and beating some demonstrators. Some protesters turned out in clown costumes complete with red rubber noses. Samba percussion circles, including one led by a drag queen with a blonde wig and oversized dollar-sign earrings, pounded out competing rhythms.

Most of the thousands who protested in Rio did so peacefully, many of them dressed in white and brandishing placards and banners. Many people in the city left work early to avoid traffic jams.

In Belo Horizonte, police estimated about 20,000 people joined a peaceful crowd protesting before a Confederations Cup football match between Tahiti and Nigeria as police helicopters buzzed overhead and mounted officers patrolled the stadium area. Earlier in the day, demonstrators erected several barricades of burning tyres on a nearby road, disrupting traffic. Protests also were reported in Curitiba, Belem and Salvador.

In a brief statement, president Dilma Rousseff acknowledged the protests, saying: "Peaceful demonstrations are legitimate and part of democracy. It is natural for young people to demonstrate."

Brazilians have long accepted corruption as a cost of doing business, whether in business or receiving public services. The government loses more than 47 billion US dollars (£30 billion) each year to undeclared tax revenue, vanished public money and other widespread corruption, according to the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo business group. But in the last decade, about 40 million Brazilians have moved into the middle class and they have begun to demand more from government. Many are angry that billions of dollars in public funds are being spent to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics while few improvements are made elsewhere.

Protests are routine in Brazil, but few turn violent. Security experts say the demonstrations are not the main danger for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will descend on Brazil from now through the Olympics in 2016.

Press Association

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