Friday, June 21, 2013

One Million Take to the Streets in Brazil Protests

An estimated one million people have reportedly taken to the streets in numerous Brazilian cities on Thursday evening.

Some 300,000 protesters gathered in Rio de Janeiro to air their grievances while a group of demonstrators in Brasilia attempted to break into several government buildings.

"What am I protesting for?" asked Savina Santos, a 29-year-old civil servant in Sao Paulo. "You should ask what I'm not protesting for! We need political reform, tax reform, an end to corruption, better schools, better transportation. We are not in a position to be hosting the World Cup."

The pressure from the protests led several officials to rescind a proposed public transit fare hike in Rio and São Paulo. Nevertheless, the rallies have intensified in recent days as more people in more locations are participating.

Much like they have done in previous protests throughout the past week, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators and others caught in the crossfire.

‘‘I was leaving a peaceful protest and it’s not the thugs that attack me but the police themselves,’’ said protester Michele Menezes who was supposedly bleeding and with her hair singed after the explosion of a tear gas canister shot by Rio police.

The police crackdown has been criticized as heavy-handed yet the only known fatality from the protests occurred when a driver ran over several protesters in São Paulo.

President Dilma Roussef cancelled a planned state trip to Japan next week and called for an emergency meeting of her cabinet on Friday morning. Her approval rating dipped by eight points before the protests, which might explain why she's allegedly "offering careful words of conciliation" instead of taking a more adversarial tone.

The rallies throughout Brazil come against the backdrop of the Confederations Cup, a soccer tournament that serves as preparation for the World Cup. The demonstrations are raising questions over security weeks before a planned visit from Argentine-born Pope Francis, and over a year ahead of the World Cup ad presidential elections. Nevertheless, an International Olympic Committee statement issued on Thursday claimed, "The Olympic Games in 2016 will bring significant benefits to the whole population of Rio, improving the city in terms of transport, infrastructure and social housing, as well as bringing a considerable sporting legacy for Brazil."

According to a Datafolha poll taken this week, 84% of São Paulo demonstrators don't back any political party, 77% have a higher education and 71% are first-time demonstrators. Most of them were opposed to the now-withdrawn toll fare hike while two out of five protesters wanted to call attention to government corruption.< r />

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