Sun, Apr 30, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Clashes with police mar Brazil strike

WITHHOLDING LABOR:The CUT union said about 35 million Brazilians did not show up for their jobs on Friday, more than one-third of the working population

AP, RIO DE JANEIRO

Military police on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, shoot at protesters during a nationwide strike against proposed labor and social welfare reforms.

Photo: AFP

Protesters lit buses on fire, blocked roads and clashed with police on Friday during a general strike that brought transportation to a halt in many cities across Latin America’s largest nation.

The strike was to protest major changes to labor law and the pension system being considered by the Brazilian Congress, but it was also a raw display of anger by many people fed up with corruption and worried about the future amid a deep recession and rising unemployment.

In Rio de Janeiro, after hours of clashes with police in front of the legislative building, several buses were torched. In Sao Paulo, thousands marched toward the home of Brazilian President Michel Temer, throwing rocks at police who shot stun grenades when protesters tried to go beyond barriers set up.

Millions stayed home, either in support of the strike or simply because they were unable to get to work. The tens of thousands who took to the street raised questions about whether Temer would be able to push his proposals through Congress, where they had previously looked likely to pass.

Temer’s administration says that more flexible labor rules will revive a moribund economy and warns the pension system will go bankrupt without changes.

Unions and other groups called for the strike, saying the changes before Congress would make workers too vulnerable and strip away too many benefits.

In a statement on Friday night, Temer characterized the protesters as ”small groups” that blocked the roads and streets.

He said his administration was trying to help workers overcome the country’s economic malaise.

Earlier in the day, most commuter trains and metro lines were stopped in Sao Paulo during the height of the morning commute and all buses stayed off the roads. Buses ran partial services during the morning in Rio but later began returning to normal. The metro was closed for the day in Brasilia.

Some protesters also set up barricades and started fires in the streets, including on roads heading to the main airports in Sao Paulo.

In Rio, protesters created confusion by running through Santos Dumont Airport and others blocked a major road.

Some aircraft mechanics joined the strike, according to the National Aeronautic Union, but the impact was minimal, with only a handful of flights canceled or delayed at the two cities’ airports.

“We are demanding our rights, as workers, because the president of the country proposed a law for people to work more and live less, so you will only receive your pension when you die,” said Edgar Fernandes, a dock worker who was protesting in Rio.

The CUT union said about 35 million Brazilians did not show up for work on Friday, more than one-third of the working population.

However, government officials downplayed the strike, insisting that many Brazilians were still at work.

“We don’t have a strike, we have widespread riots,” Brazilian Minister of Justice Osmar Serraglio said on Joven Pam radio.

The nation’s economy is in a deep recession and many Brazilians are frustrated with Temer’s administration.

Temer, whose approval ratings are hovering about 10 percent, has said the proposed changes would benefit Brazilians in the long run.

However, with so many out of work, many feel they can ill afford any cuts to their benefits.

The country is also mired in a colossal scandal involving billions of dollars in kickbacks to politicians and other public officials. Over the past three years, dozens of top politicians and businessmen have been jailed in the so-called “car wash” investigation that has produced near daily revelations of wrongdoing.

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