Over one million march in Brazil as protests spread
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Brazil saw its biggest day of protests yet on Thursday, despite a reversal in the bus fare increases that sparked the wave of unrest. As many as one million people took to the streets as President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency cabinet meeting.
Protesters in Brazil grew to 1 million on Thursday, with rallies and marches staged in over 100 cities across South America’s largest country, according to police and media. President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a scheduled trip to Japan and convened an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis.
While many of the huge demonstrations were peaceful, protests in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Fortaleza and elsewhere ended with clashes between riot police and some groups.
The large-scale protests also saw its first victim on Thursday, as a motorist in the city of Ribeirão Preto in the state of Sao Paulo ran over as many as 13 people, killing an 18-year-old youth and seriously injuring three others, local media reported.
Around 300,000 people filled the streets of Rio de Janeiro, even after state officials said they would reverse an increase in bus fares. Proposed rises in transport costs have been abandoned across the country after the move sparked protests nationwide five days ago.
While many protesters called for a peaceful show of strength in Rio, the gathering descended into violence as night fell, with dozens of people injured as youth concealing their faces with t-shirts threw rocks and police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.
In Brasilia police struggled to control 30,000 protesters who gathered near the capital city’s government buildings. A fire set alight near the foreign ministry, and the threat of an invasion of the presidential palace and the national congress, led to brutal clashes between security forces and demonstrators
Violent showdowns were also reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in the university town of Campinas north of Sao Paulo, and the city of Salvador in the north.
Thursday also saw protests spread to small and medium-sized cities that had until then seen little mobilisation. Approximately 70,000 people rallied in the southern state of Santa Catarina, while 85,000 came out for a march in Manaus, a city deep in the Amazon jungle.
FIFA minibus targeted
In another telling event, a small bus used by world football governing body FIFA was targeted with rocks in the state of Bahia, and riot police had to intervene.
People have expressed anger at the government’s enormous budget for 12 World Cup stadiums and resulting infrastructure, demanding more money for education and health.
The country is also preparing for a visit by Pope Francis this summer and the 2016 Rio Olympics, with the current unrest raising concerns about the ability of the government to provide security during the massive events.
Protests on the scale that have been witnessed this week are rare in Brazil, which is home to over 200 million people.
The growing demonstrations have caught Brazilian authorities off guard, but have energised many citizens. “The Giant has Awoken,” was a popular slogan splashed on protest banners and relayed by protesters on online social networks.
Some demonstrators have vowed to continue fighting until at least 20 million are out in the streets.