Brazil sees fresh protests despite Rousseff’s speech

‘RHETORIC’::Protesters angry at the millions spent on soccer events were seemingly unswayed by the Brazilian president’s offer a ‘great pact’ to fix services and fight graft


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - Page 7

Fresh protests rocked Brazil on Saturday despite conciliatory remarks by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who pledged to improve public services and fight harder against corruption.

Rousseff’s televised address late on Friday appeared to have failed to sway protesters, as activists vowed to continue the struggle and ordinarily soccer-mad Brazilians once again protested outside Confederations Cup games.

More than 70,000 people chanting “The Cup for whom?” rallied in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte as Mexico edged Japan 2-1 in the soccer tournament seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup.

Police fired tear gas when some of the protesters hurled stones and tried to break through the security perimeter around the Estadio Mineirao. About people, including five police officers, were reported injured in the clashes and another 22 protesters were arrested.

Later, the unrest spread as shops were looted and banks and a car dealership vandalized.

“We are against the World Cup because it masks the problems the country faces,” said musician Leonardo Melo, who dismissed Rousseff’s speech as “rhetoric.”

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians have protested against the billions of dollars being spent on the World Cup, accusing the government of wasting money and neglecting health, education and transport.

More than 1 million marched in dozens of cities on Thursday.

In Sao Paulo, 35,000 people took to the streets peacefully on Saturday to denounce a proposed constitutional amendment that would take away the power of independent public prosecutors to probe crimes, making it harder to fight corruption.

In the southern town of Uruguaiana, demonstrators peacefully occupied the bridge linking Brazil to Uruguay for four hours.

In Santa Maria, where a disco fire killed 242 young people in January, 30,000 people protested.

In Salvador, where Brazil beat Italy 4-2 in another Confederations Cup match, about 200 people protested, according to a reporter.

Inside the Estadio Octavio Mangabeira, dozens of fans brandished placards proclaiming: “Let’s go to the streets to change Brazil.”

West of Rio de Janeiro, near the Bangu Prison, police confiscated Molotov cocktails, sticks and stones and arrested 30 people for looting and smashing furniture after a protest by aboui 500 people, according to the Globo G1 Web site.

As the Rousseff government tried to address the ever rising tide of dissatisfaction over its social policies, former soccer star-turned Brazilian Socialist Party politician Romario joined the debate, dubbing soccer’s world governing body FIFA as “Brazil’s real president.”

In her address, Rousseff offered Brazilians a “great pact” between the government and the people to improve shoddy public services and stressed the need for “more effective ways to fight corruption.”

However, her intervention left protesters unmoved, judging by a torrent of comments on social media Web sites amid the release of a poll showing that three-quarters of Brazilians back the demonstrations.

“I was depressed listening to Dilma. It’s a joke, right? Dilma treats us as if we are idiots,” one read.

“We want dates and times, action. Promises are not enough,” another said.

The protests have been largely peaceful, but some have been marred by violence and acts of vandalism, notably in Rio and Brasilia, with two deaths recorded so far.

The popular outrage, dubbed by some a “Tropical Spring” after the protest movements in the Arab world and echoing similar turmoil in Turkey this month, has come as a shock to outside observers.

Rousseff’s political mentor, former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, helped raise Brazil’s international profile and the World Cup was seen as a key milestone in its emergence as a global power.

However, the protesters say they feel left behind as they watch gleaming new stadiums spring up in cities paralyzed by traffic and clogged with aging trains and buses.