Thousands Protest in Brazil
Demonstrations Smaller, Less Violent
People march toward the Mineirao stadium during a protest in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 22, 2013. Demonstrators once again took to the streets in Brazil on Saturday, continuing a wave of protests that have shaken the nation and pushed the government to promise a crackdown on corruption and greater spending on social services. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Sao Paulo — Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators again took to streets in several Brazilian cities yesterday after the president broke a long silence to promise reforms, but the early protests were smaller and less violent than those of recent days.
Police estimated that about 60,000 demonstrators gathered in a central square in the city of Belo Horizonte, largely to denounce legislation that would limit the power of federal prosecutors to investigate crimes in a country where many are fed up with the high rate of robberies and killings. Many fear the law would also hinder attempts to jail corrupt politicians and other powerful figures.
In Belo Horizonte, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who tried to pass through a barrier and hurled rocks at a car dealership.
President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who was tortured during Brazil’s military dictatorship, made a televised 10-minute appearance on Friday night backing the right to peaceful protest but sharply condemning violence, vandalism and looting.
She promised to be tougher on corruption and said she would meet with peaceful protesters, governors and the mayors of big cities to create a national plan to improve urban transportation and use oil royalties for investments in education. Much of the anger behind the protests has been aimed at costly bus fares, high taxes and poor public services such as schools and health care.
Many Brazilians, shocked by a week of protests and violence, hoped that Rousseff’s words would soothe tensions and help avoid more violence, but not all were convinced by her promises of action.
A rapidly growing crowd blocked Sao Paulo’s main business street, Avenida Paulista, to press their demands.
Victoria Villela, a 21-year-old university who joined the crowd, said she was “frustrated and exhausted by the endless corruption of our government.”
“It was good Dilma spoke, but this movement has moved too far, there was not much she could really say. All my friends were talking on Facebook about how she said nothing that satisfied them. I think the protests are going to continue for a long time and the crowds will still be huge.”
Around her, fathers held young boys aloft on their shoulders, older women gathered in clusters with their faces bearing yellow and green stripes, the colors of Brazil’s flag.
In the northeastern city of Salvador, where Brazil’s national football team was set to play Italy in a match for the Confederations Cup, some 5,000 protesters gathered about 3 miles from the stadium, shouting demands for better schools and transportation and denouncing heavy spending on next year’s World Cup.