One Million Protesters Fill Brazil’s Streets to Vent Anti-Government Grievances
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JEFFREY BROWN: Brazil braced today for more mass protests, after crowds filled the streets overnight in more than 100 cities. At least a million people took part, the most since the demonstrations started more than a week ago.
As in days past, it was mostly peaceful, with more than 300,000 people marching in Rio de Janeiro alone. Then, as on some previous nights, trouble started. Masked youths challenged riot police and pitched battles erupted. The air crackled with police firing rubber bullets and lobbing tear gas into the crowds. At least 40 people were injured.
MAN: We have stopped here and we aren’t doing anything, but they came out with the horses into us. And now look.
MAN: Who is violent? The police, throwing gas. There are people living here. All of them have families, kids, elderly people, and all of them are fighting for their rights. We want nothing more than justice, just justice.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the capital, Brasilia, protesters smashed windows and broke into government buildings. By daybreak, broken glass and debris littered the streets.
Back in Rio, many said they support the protests, but condemn the vandalism and crime.
RONALDO LIMA, Tax Assistant: The people are right to be demanding their rights, but only up to a certain point. When it’s a question of breaking into shops, looting, stealing things, this has nothing to do with the protest movement.
DEISE ALBERTO, Veterinarian: I think that the people are really doing the right thing. Only, things appear to be getting out of control. Someone needs to take the lead of this and guide the people, using all this energy and really achieve a positive change.
JEFFREY BROWN: The protests started last week over a 20-cent fare hike on public transit. When police in Sao Paulo cracked down on a small demonstration, thousands surged into the streets to vent other grievances, as they did last night.
LUIS FELIPE, Student: It’s a lot more than simply 20 cents. It’s education. It’s health. It’s a lot of things combined.
VICTOR HASHIMOTO, Student: Just lowering the bus fare isn’t going to convince me that they are going to improve Brazil. For me, the 20 cents isn’t significant.
JEFFREY BROWN: What is significant for many is the huge public spending to prepare for hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. More millions will go to receive Pope Francis when he visits next month.
Many argue the money should be spent to improve schools and bring down the sky-high costs of health care. On Tuesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff denounced the violence, but acknowledged the protesters must be heard.
PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF, Brazil: This direct message from the streets is to improve civility, for better schools, for better hospitals, for better health services, and for the right to participate. This direct message from the streets is to demand quality public transport at fair prices.
JEFFREY BROWN: Otherwise, she has said little about the spreading unrest. She held an emergency closed-door Cabinet meeting this afternoon, but made no comment afterward.
Meanwhile, on social media, calls are growing for a general strike next week. For now, the country’s top unions say no plans are in the works.