Brazil protesters disappointed with low turnout at Independence Day rallies
Demonstrators in Brazil tried to regain the energy of June’s massive street protests with rallies marking independence day on Saturday, but efforts fizzled with low turnout.
A few thousand protesters marched in the capital, Brasilia, a few hundred in Rio de Janeiro and rallies were held in several other cities.
Turnout was a tiny fraction of what was seen several months ago, when more than a million people took to the streets as the country hosted the football Confederations Cup.
“We want better education, political reforms and media democratization. The June protests served to push Congress to approve measures -- we have to keep them alive,” student Philip Leite told AFP.
Brazil remains in the international spotlight as it prepares to host the World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Protesters are angry at the millions being spent on the sporting events, funds they argue would be better used to improve transportation, education and health services for poor Brazilians.
Security was noticeably tighter across Brazil’s cities in anticipation of the protests, especially in the capital Brasilia, where President Dilma Rousseff participated without incident in the traditional military parade.
After the parade, around 2,000 anti-corruption protesters marched to Congress and clashed with police. Authorities had warned masked demonstrators would be detained and identified, a measure already in place in Rio that is aimed at discouraging vandalism.
Hundreds of protesters, many wearing masks, also tried to break the police cordon surrounding the capital’s World Cup Mane Garrincha stadium, as ticket holders entered 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.
Police in the capital also attacked a group of reporters with pepper spray -- including an AFP photographer who needed medical attention -- who had came out in support of a reporter who was hurt earlier by a police dog.
In Rio, around 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, including many families with children, to flea the fumes.
Some 80 people were arrested in Rio, local news site G1 reported. In Sao Paulo, another 39 were detained.
Police chased several protesters who escaped through side streets, shooting rubber bullets, according to G1. At least one bank branch near the demonstration was vandalized.
Later, several hundred protesters continued the demonstration in the city centre under heavy police surveillance.
“Education in Brazil is a disgrace and so are wages. Investment is being made in private initiatives rather than public ones,” said 25-year-old Eduardo Marques, who just graduated to become a teacher.
Another protester, businesswoman Paula Cohen, 32, called for military intervention to oust Rousseff.
The president’s popularity plummeted from 63 per cent to 30 per cent after the June protests, though she rebounded slightly, to 36 per cent, in early August after an ad campaign promising more investment in public services and her decision to promote political reform.
“People have every right to be outraged with what is wrong and to demand change,” Rousseff said Friday.
But she promised not to allow “a layer of gloom cover the most important fact: Brazil has advanced as usual in recent years.”