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Poor services drive massive protests in Brazil

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Tolerance limits broken:A protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Monday.— Photo: AP
Tolerance limits broken:A protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Monday.— Photo: AP

Some of the biggest demonstrations since the end of Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship have broken out, uniting tens of thousands frustrated by poor transportation, health services, education and security despite a heavy tax burden.

More than 100,000 people were in the streets on Monday for largely peaceful protests in at least eight big cities. However, demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte were marred by vandalism and violent clashes with police.

About two dozen people were reported injured.

The wave of protests, which began over a hike in bus prices, was also in large part motivated by widespread images of Sao Paulo police last week beating demonstrators and firing rubber bullets during a march that drew 5,000. Many are angry that billions of dollars in public funds are being spent to host the World Cup and Olympics while few improvements are made elsewhere.

In Rio, the violent police crackdown on a small and peaceful crowd on Sunday near the Maracana stadium incited many to come out for what local news media described as the city’s largest protest in a generation.

The vast majority of Rio’s protesters were peaceful, but a small group of demonstrators attacked the state legislature building, setting a nearby car and other objects ablaze.

Monday’s protests came during soccer’s Confederations Cup and just one month before a papal visit, a year before the World Cup and three years ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A cyber-attack knocked the government’s official World Cup site offline, and the Twitter feed for Brazil’s Anonymous group posted links to a host of other government websites whose content had been replaced by a screen calling on citizens to come out to the streets.

In a brief statement late on Monday, President Dilma Rousseff acknowledged the demonstrations, saying: “Peaceful demonstrations are legitimate and part of democracy. It is natural for young people to demonstrate.” Ms. Rousseff recently saw her popularity rating dip for the first time in her presidency, largely over sluggish growth, increasing inflation and security worries. Ms. Rousseff faces re-election next year.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic hub, at least 65,000 protesters gathered on Monday railing against the action that sparked the first protests last week: a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares.

Thousands of protesters in the capital, Brasilia, peacefully marched on Congress. “This is a communal cry saying: ‘We’re not satisfied,’” Maria Claudia Cardoso said on a Sao Paulo avenue.

“We’re massacred by the government’s taxes, yet when we leave home in the morning to go to work, we don’t know if we’ll make it home alive because of the violence,” she added. “We don’t have good schools for our kids. Our hospitals are in awful shape. Corruption is rife. These protests will make history and wake our politicians up to the fact that we’re not taking it anymore!”


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