Protesters chant 'Turkey is here!' in Brazil bus fare demos as police takes hard line
Demonstrators protest along downtown Sao Paulo on June 13 against a recent rise in public bus and subway fare from 3 to 3.20 reais (1.50 USD). AFP photo
Brazilians took to the streets in several big cities to denounce the bus fare increase in protests that saw a heavy intervention from the police and accusations of vandalism by officials.
"Peace is over, Turkey is here!" was one chant on the night of June 13 during the protests in several Brazilian cities. An estimated 5,000 protesters who took to the streets in Sao Paolo, including many university students, moved peacefully through the streets, with some waving Turkish flags in recognition of the protests that were sparked over the demolition attempt of Istanbul’s Gezi park. Some said that protests were inspired from the recent demos in Turkey.
The protests demanding free public transportat have entered their second week, adding a sense of growing unrest in Brazil at a time when inflation, crime and President Dilma Rousseff's popularity are all taking a turn for the worse. Violence erupted as police tried to quell the crowd using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Dozens were injured and nearly 200 have been detained.
Demonstrations also were held in Rio de Janeiro and the southern city of Porto Alegre, raising the prospect they could spread as Brazil prepares to host soccer's Confederations Cup - a warm-up event for next year's World Cup - for two weeks starting on Saturday.
Police have taken an increasingly hard line against the protests, firing rubber bullets and tear gas, injuring several bystanders and journalists covering the demonstrations. One widely circulated image showed police firing pepper spray at a TV cameraman filming the protests in Sao Paulo.
The protests themselves have rallied around opposition to a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares to the equivalent of about $1.60, leading some pundits to blame them on inflation running at 6.5 percent annually and an economy that has cooled down considerably after last decade's boom.
Interviews with protesters indicate a wide range of grievances, from rising murder rates to anti-abortion laws to growing frustration with insufficient and overcrowded public transportation.
Many of the protesters in Sao Paulo appeared to be middle-class university students, carrying smartphones and high-end cameras, while local media reported a significant presence of left-wing political parties.
'Vandalism not acceptable'
After previous protests severely disrupted traffic and damaged storefronts and subway stations in Sao Paulo, a metropolitan area of about 20 million people and Brazil's financial capital, local authorities promised not to let a tiny group wreak havoc again - a stance supported by editorials in the city's two largest newspapers.
"Vandalism, violence and obstruction of public roads are not acceptable," Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin wrote on Twitter on Thursday night as the crackdown was taking place.
"The right to free protest is a basic pillar of democracy. So is the right to come and go and the right to protect public property," he added.
A survey of Sao Paulo residents by polling firm Datafolha, taken before Thursday night's protest, indicated that 55 percent of respondents supported the demonstrators, although 78 percent thought they had been too violent.
Mayor says 'no step back,' more protests next week
Demonstrators said they planned another march in Sao Paulo for June 17 evening. Twitter and other social media crackled on June13 morning with calls for more students to join upcoming marches.
Sao Paulo's newly elected mayor, Fernando Haddad, said he would not backtrack on the fare increase, but he also expressed regret over the violence.
"On Tuesday [June 11], I think the image was of violence by the protesters," he told reporters. "Unfortunately, [June 13], there's no doubt that the image was of police violence."
Haddad is a prominent member of Rousseff's left-leaning Workers' Party, and finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to confront a cause many in the party support.
Compiled by the Daily News staff from Reuters and wires.