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Thursday 18 July 2019

Brazilians hold general strike amid anger over pensions overhaul

Police launched tear gas at demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro as public frustration over reforms by Jair Bolsonaro’s government boiled over.

Protesters take to the streets in Rio de Janeiro (AP)
Protesters take to the streets in Rio de Janeiro (AP)

By Marcelo Silva de Sousa

Thousands of people filled the streets of Brazil’s main cities for the first general strike of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s administration over pension reforms and budget cuts.

The nationwide strike was called by Brazil’s unions and mainly targeted the pensions overhaul Mr Bolsonaro is currently pushing for in congress.

It follows massive protests in May against steep cuts to the public education system and discontent over an economic downturn.

In Rio, police launched tear gas at protesters who attempted to block Avenida Brasil, while residents of Sao Paulo awoke to find demonstrators burning tyres on the main Rodovia Anhanguera road. There were no reports of injuries.

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The pension reforms would mean a rise in the retirement age (AP)

Authorities in Rio Grande do Sul said 76 people who participated in the protests had been detained, including 54 in the state capital of Porto Alegre.

Schools, banks and some public transportation shut down amid the protests.

While the crowds were not as large as in May’s education demonstration, the United Workers Central labour federation called the strike a success, claiming that 45 million people heeded its call not to work.

Mr Bolsonaro’s government, which took office on January 1 and has faced a series of protests by women’s and indigenous groups as well as teachers and students, ignored the general strike.

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One protester holds a sign depicting Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro depicted as a clown in a straitjacket (AP)

The pension reform would raise the retirement age to 65 for men and 62 for women and increase workers’ contributions. Under the current system, male and female workers can claim pension benefits after 30 to 35 years of contributions, respectively, meaning many can retire as early as 50 or 55.

Mr Bolsonaro’s government said the reform could save about one trillion reals (£206 billion) and help save the troubled social security system from bankruptcy.

The proposal is currently being reviewed by a special commission in the lower house of congress. A previous pension reform bill, introduced by former president Michel Temer, managed to pass the commission and made it to the plenary, but was abandoned after nine months.

Protester Carolina Cacau said the plan would do away with retirement altogether.

“It will make workers work until their death,” she said.

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