Rallies in Brazil aim to regain protest momentum


Mon, Sep 09, 2013 - Page 7

Protesters in Brazil tried to regain the energy of June’s massive street protests with rallies planned in more than 100 cities on Saturday, the country’s independence day — but efforts fizzled with low turnout.

A couple thousand protesters marched in the capital, Brasilia, a few hundred in Rio de Janeiro, and rallies were held in several other cities with more planned throughout the day.

However, turnout was a tiny fraction of what was seen in June, when more than 1 million people took to the streets as the country hosted the football Confederations Cup.

Brazil remains in the international spotlight as it prepares to host the football World Cup next year and the summer Olympic Games in 2016.

Protesters are angry at the millions being spent for the sporting events, funds they argue would be better used to improve transportation, education and health services for poor Brazilians.

Security was heightened across Brazil’s cities on Saturday in anticipation of the protests, especially in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff participated without incident in the traditional military parade.

At the end of the official parade, about 2,000 anti-corruption protesters marched to Brazilian Congress and clashed with police.

Police had also warned masked protesters would be detained and identified, a measure already in place in Rio aimed at discouraging vandalism.

Hundreds of protesters, many wearing masks, in the capital also tried to break the police cordon surrounding the World Cup Mane Garrincha stadium, as ticketholders were entering nearly two hours before a friendly between Brazil and Australia.

Police dispersed the protesters with tear gas, while the demonstrators threw stones at the security forces and swarmed in and around the stadium, with police in pursuit.

At least 24 people were arrested, authorities said.

In Rio, about 100 protesters, some masked, stormed onto the downtown avenue where the military was parading, shouting slogans and clashing with police.

Security forces fired tear gas, prompting nearby spectators, many of them families with children, to flea the fumes.

Thirteen people were injured, according to health authorities, and police said at least 24 protesters were arrested.

Police chased several protesters who escaped through side streets, shooting rubber bullets, according to local news site G1.

Later, several hundred protesters continued the demonstration in the city center under heavy police surveillance.

Rousseff’s popularity plummeted from 63 percent to 30 percent after the June protests, though she rebounded slightly, to 36 percent, last month after an ad campaign promising more investment in public services and her decision to promote political reform.

In a speech on Friday, the president said “people have every right to be outraged with what is wrong and to demand change.”

However, she said she would not let “a layer of gloom cover the most important fact: Brazil has advanced as usual in recent years.”

Demonstrations were also held in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and several other cities, many of them peaceful.