Sao Paulo, Rio officials suspend subway, bus fare hike that sparked nationwide protests
SAO PAOLO - The Associated Press
Students take part in a demonstration at Praca da Se, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 18. AFP photoOfficials in Brazil's two biggest cities said June 19 that they have reversed an increase in bus and subway fares that ignited protests across the nation.
However, many doubted the move would help abate the demonstrations that have moved well beyond the outrage over the fare hikes into communal cries against poor public services in Latin America's biggest nation.
"This will represent a big sacrifice and we will have to reduce investments in other areas," Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said. He didn't give details on where other cuts would occur.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes also confirmed that the fare increase would be rescinded in that city.
Scattered street demonstrations continued in some parts of Brazil, including Rio's sister city of Niteroi, as protesters demand improvements of the public services they receive in exchange for high taxes and rising prices.
In one of several protests, about 200 people blocked the Anchieta Highway that links Sao Paulo, the country's biggest city, and the port of Santos before heading to the industrial suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo on Sao Paulo's outskirts. Another group of protesters later obstructed the highway again.
In the northeastern city of Fortaleza, 15,000 protesters clashed with police trying to prevent them from reaching the Castelao stadium before Brazil's game with Mexico in the Confederations Cup soccer tournament.
Rio police use tear gas to quell protest near stadium
Riot police used gas bombs and pepper spray to keep protesters from advancing past a barrier some 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) from the stadium. A police car was burned by demonstrators, who also threw rocks and other objects at officers. The protest disrupted fans' efforts to get in the stadium for Brazil's second match at the World Cup warm-up tournament.
"We are against a government that spends billions in stadiums while people are suffering across the country," said Natalia Querino, a 22-year-old student participating in the protest. "We want better education, more security and a better health system."
Earlier, hundreds of protesters cut off the main access road to the stadium, and police responded by diverting traffic away from the road. Official vehicles of the international soccer organization, FIFA, were among those struggling to reach the stadium.
In the city of Belo Horizonte, some 2,000 protesters took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration, while protesters were reported gathering in Niteroi, across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro.
The actions followed another night of mass marches around Brazil and nearly a week of unrest that has shocked the country's leaders ahead of a papal visit next month and next year's World Cup soccer tournament.
Beginning as protests against bus fare hikes, the demonstrations have quickly ballooned to include broad middle-class outrage over the failure of the government to provide basic services and ensure public safety, even as Brazil's economy modernizes and tax rates remain some of the highest in the world.
Protest organizers, who have widely employed social media, called for mass demonstrations Thursday in Sao Paulo and Rio, the country's two biggest cities. The Rio action promised the most volatility, with protesters planning to march to Maracana stadium where Spain and Tahiti are to play in a Confederations Cup match. Police said they would not allow protesters to interrupt the game.
Soldiers from Brazil's elite National Force have been sent to Fortaleza, Rio, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Brasilia to bolster security during tournament games.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter urged protesters to stop linking their anger against the government to the Confederations Cup. The cost of building stadiums for the FIFA tournaments has been a regular complaint at marches.
In an interview with Brazil's Globo TV network, Blatter said he could "understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard."
"We did not impose the World Cup on Brazil," he said.
Beyond complaints about transit fares, protesters haven't produced any concrete demands even as they've waved signs, gone on social media and chanted their anger at the entire governing system. A common cry at the rallies: "No parties!"
"What I hope comes from these protests is that the governing class comes to understand that we're the ones in charge, not them, and the politicians must learn to respect us," said Yasmine Gomes, a 22-year-old squeezed into the plaza in central Sao Paulo where Tuesday night's protest began.
Dilma praises protests
President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil's 1964-85 dictatorship, has hailed the protests for raising questions and strengthening Brazil's democracy. "Brazil today woke up stronger," she said in a statement Tuesday.
Yet Rousseff offered no actions that her government might take to address complaints.
The protests have raised troubling questions about the country's ability to provide security ahead of it playing host to some of the world's biggest events, including the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Mass protests are rare in this 190 million-person country, with demonstrations generally attracting small numbers of politicized participants.
Many now protesting in Brazil's streets hail from the country's growing middle class, which government figures show has ballooned by some 40 million people over the past decade amid a commodities-driven economic boom.
The protesters say they've lost patience with endemic problems such as government corruption and inefficiency. They're also slamming Brazil's government for spending billions of dollars to host the World Cup and Olympics while leaving other needs unmet.