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Massive protests continue in Brazil

Protesters at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia, on June 15, 2013.

Protesters at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia, on June 15, 2013.

Brazil: 300,000 protest in Rio

Hundreds of thousands demonstrate across the country despite U-turn over transport fare increases which sparked the unrest

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, Thursday 20 June 2013

Brazil’s biggest protests in two decades intensified on Thursday as 300,000 people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and hundreds of thousands more flooded other cities. The demonstrations came despite the government’s U-turn over public transport fare hikes which sparked the protests over a week ago.

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro increased police manpower more than tenfold to deal with the protests.

In the centre of the city, shops pulled down shutters as crowds gathered next to the cathedral, hundreds wearing plastic masks.

But the atmosphere was festive, with music and chanting from the mostly young, middle-class crowd. The wide variety of banners showed how this movement has been a magnet for frustrations that have simmered for many years: “Stop corruption. Change Brazil”, “Come to the street. It’s the only place we don’t pay taxes”, “Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution”, “We want to change everything wrong in our country”, “Stop police violence” – Seemingly the only common theme was a desire for change.

Riot cop pepper sprays a woman during large protests in Brazil, June 2013.

Riot cop pepper sprays a woman during large protests in Brazil, June 2013.

“There are no politicians who speak for us,” said Jamaime Schmitt, an engineer. “This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can’t see this in our schools, hospitals and roads.”

In Sao Paulo protesters carried banners saying “Twenty cents was just the start,” referring to the bus fare reductions, as crowds converged along the Avenida Paulista, the broad avenue in the centre of the city.

In the capital, Brasilia, tens of thousands of protesters by early evening marched around the landmark modernist buildings that house Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential offices.

The swelling tide of protests prompted President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip next week to Japan, her office said.

Destroyed ATMs during protests in Brazil, June 2013.

Destroyed ATMs during protests in Brazil, June 2013.

In Rio police vastly underestimated the scale of a previous demonstration on Monday, which was largely peaceful but ended with fire and vandalism outside the legislative assembly. Only 150 officers were on duty to deal with a crowd of more than 100,000. Police said they had increased on-duty personnel and placed a battalion of riot police on standby.

The military police spokesman for Rio state, Frederico Caldas, estimated that 8,000 police would be involved in a dual operation to handle the demonstration in the centre of the city and security for the Spanish and Tahitian football teams, who were playing in the Confederations Cup. Police cordoned off the Maracanã stadium, blocking access to protesters during the game. Only ticket-holders were allowed to enter. Inside the stadium, fans sang protest songs and showed support for the throngs of demonstrators gathering in the city.

Demonstrators attempt to take the Tiradentes Palace -- Rio de Janeiro's Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) building-- during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, on June 17, 2013.

Demonstrators attempt to take the Tiradentes Palace — Rio de Janeiro’s Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) building– during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, on June 17, 2013.

Police numbers in Rio included 1,200 riot officers who would remain in barracks unless the demonstration turned violent. They were to be armed with teargas and rubber bullets, but the authorities said they would only be used in an emergency.

Thursday’s demonstration will be the biggest test of a high-tech police command centre, opened last month, which includes a giant screen with images from hundreds of cameras around the city. For the march on Thursday night, helicopters with high-resolution imaging will also monitor the crowd, but the police denied rumours that drones would be used. “There will be no drones in this operation. That is a false rumourWe don’t even have a law that allows drones,” said the spokesman.

Early reports seemed to indicate the demonstrations were largely peaceful although police in the northeastern city of Salvador shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse a small crowd of protesters trying to break through a police barrier blocking one of the city’s streets.

Some of the cities where major protests have occurred in Brazil, June 2013.

Some of the cities where major protests have occurred in Brazil, June 2013.

The spark for the unrest was a rise in public transport fares. After early protests were handled brutally by police , the unrest escalated and spread to include a long list of grievances, including corruption, poor public services, and the high cost of stadiums being built for the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/20/brazil-protests-police-rio-de-janeiro

Brazil protests: riot police scatter crowds in Rio

Clashes in several other cities with estimates of a million people on the streets

Jonathan Watts, Associated Press/guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 June 2013

The streets of central Rio de Janeiro echoed with percussion grenades and swirled with tear gas last night as ranks of riot police scattered the biggest demonstrations the cities have seen for more than two decades.

As a minority of protestors threw rocks, the police fired volleys of gas cannisters and rubber bullets into the crowd and up onto overpasses where car drivers and bus passengers were stuck in traffic jams.

A  protester rushes to make a last minute cash withdrawal...

A protester rushes to make a last minute cash withdrawal during June 2013 protests in Brazil….

Vast crowds – estimated at 300,000 – filled Rio’s streets, one of a wave of huge nationwide marches. Hundreds of thousands more were in São Paulo and other cities. Clashes were reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in the university town Campinas north of Sao Paulo and in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

More than a million people joined the protests around the country in 80 cities, Associated Press reported.

At least one protester was killed in Sao Paulo state after a car rammed into a crowd of demonstrators, the driver apparently angered about being unable to drive along a street.

The Rio demonstration started at the city cathedral in good spirits with people singing, chanting and carrying banners.

One of the mass rallies in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during June 2013.

One of the mass rallies in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during June 2013.

The protests were sparked last week by opposition to a bus price rise but they have spread rapidly to encompass a range of grievances, as was evident from the placards. “Stop corruption. Change Brazil”; “Halt evictions”; “Come to the street. It’s the only place we don’t pay taxes”; “Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution”.

“Brazil woke up. The youth are going to the street, the workers as well, to construct a new fight,” said Paulo Henrique Lima, 24, one of organisers. “We are changing the history of this country. Where it is going we are going to construct a new politics where people have a voice and go to the street to demand this.”

The swelling tide of protests prompted President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip next week to Japan, her office said.

Many in the mostly young, middle class crowd were experiencing their first large protest.

“There are no politicians who speak for us,” said Jamaime Schmitt, an engineer. “This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can’t see this in our schools, hospitals and roads.”

Riot cops firing tear gas or rubber bullets into crowd, Brazil, June 2013.

Riot cops firing tear gas or rubber bullets into crowd, Brazil, June 2013.

Matheus Bizarria, who works for the NGO Action Aid, said people had reached the limit of their tolerance about longstanding problems that the Confederations Cup and World Cup have brought into focus because billions of reais have been spent on new stadiums rather than public services. Rio is also due to host a papal visit to World Youth Day next month, and the Olympics in 2016.

“It’s totally connected to the mega-events,” Bizarria said. “People have had enough, but last year only 100 people marched against a bus price rise. There were 1,000 last week and 100,000 on Monday. Now we hope for a million.”

Initially the mood was peaceful. When a handful of people began tearing down posters for the Confederations Cup, the rest of the crowd sat down around them and shamed them with shouts of “No violence” and “No vandalism”.

But police had increased their manpower more than 10-fold from Monday, and were quickly on the offensive.

After a confrontation near the city hall, they drove back the crowd, who fled coughing with tears streaming down their cheeks. At least one person was hit by rubber bullets, and showed the bruise on his leg where he was hit.

Others were furious that the police actions were indiscriminate. “Where we had been tranquil, then suddenly they started firing gas into the crowd. People were scared and appalled,” said Alessandra Sampaio, one of the protesters.

“They are cowards. They wanted to disperse the crowd never mind who it was. I’m very angry, it was a real abuse of power.”

Victor Bezerra, a law student, said the police actions were like something from the dictatorship era. “These are bad days for Brazil. The police were acting just like they did 30 years ago.”

Brazilian riot cop with shotgun during clashes with protesters, June 2013.

Brazilian riot cop with shotgun during clashes with protesters, June 2013.

The crowd were driven into side streets and back towards the central station by lines of police backed by officers on horsesback and motorbikes carrying shotguns.

Vandalism was on a greater scale than Monday. Protesters pulled down security cameras, smashed bus stops and torched cars. Every hoarding that advertised the Confederations Cup was destroyed.

“Look at this. It’s hard to believe. Terrible!”, said Ellie Lopes, a 22-year-old passerby as she surveyed the debris and flames.

(Additional reporting by Dom Phillips and Helena Alves)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/21/brazil-police-crowds-rio-protest

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