Thousands of people marched in Rio de Janeiro on Monday to support teachers seeking pay hikes before masked anarchists turned to violence, setting fires, breaking into buildings and smashing a City Hall gate.
The demonstration took place over several hours and was peaceful at first. However, once night fell, violent incidents broke out as at least 200 “black bloc” anarchists smashed a City Hall gate, while others broke into banks and tried to break open ATMs and set some alight.
Demonstrators also torched a bus on Rio Branco Avenue and pulled furniture out of banks to use in barricades as they squared off with police.
Authorities used tear gas to get the crowd under control.
Afterward, the streets looked like a battle zone, with buildings damaged, trash burning and the smell of tear gas.
A similar rally in Sao Paulo also turned violent. Seven people were injured, including four police officers, the O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.
In Rio, the trouble started when the “black bloc” demonstrators tried to break into town hall. At first, only unarmed security guards were on hand, but riot police eventually showed up and fired tear gas.
“Without the police, there is no violence. When they are there, there always is,” said anarchist Hugo Cryois, 23, who had a gas mask dangling from his neck.
“I came prepared,” he said. “You can’t trust them.”
Teachers who have been pressing for a pay raise for two months said 50,000 people marched to support them before the violence broke out. Police would only confirm the 10,000 figure.
The unrest is the latest obstacle in Rio’s ambitious security program to pacify and permanently occupy slums ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
Homicides in Rio are down, but an Associated Press analysis of official police statistics showed that since 2007 — a year before the security push into the city’s slums — the number of missing person cases in the city and its outskirts shot up 33 percent, to 4,090 reports last year.
It is not clear who or what is behind the increase, but heavy-handed police tactics raise suspicions among those living in slums that authorities are involved.
These suspicions have been raised by the case of Amarildo de Souza, a 42-year-old construction worker who an internal police investigation found was tortured, killed and “disappeared’’ by officers in July.
During the probe, more than 20 other residents of De Souza’s slum told authorities they were tortured during police interrogations.
Watchdog groups say it is reasonable to think police are disappearing people as they struggle to tame slums, given the long track record of officers carrying out extrajudicial killings, but security experts blame drug gangs for hiding the bodies of rival traffickers to avoid drawing police attention.