SAO PAULO — As many as 200,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities yesterday in a swelling wave of protest tapping into widespread anger at poor public services, police violence and government corruption.
The marches, organised mostly through snowballing social media campaigns, blocked streets and halted traffic in more than a half-dozen cities, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, where demonstrators climbed onto the roof of Brazil’s Congress building and then stormed it.
Yesterday’s demonstrations were the latest in a flurry of protests in the past two weeks that have added to growing unease over Brazil’s sluggish economy, high inflation and a spurt in violent crime.
While most of the protests unfolded as a festive display of dissent, some demonstrators in Rio threw rocks at police, set fire to a parked car and vandalised the state assembly building. Vandals also destroyed property in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
Around the country, protesters waved Brazilian flags, dancing and chanting slogans such as “The people have awakened” and “Pardon the inconvenience, Brazil is changing”.
The epicentre of yesterday’s march shifted from Sao Paulo, where some 65,000 people took to the streets late in the afternoon, to Rio. There, as protesters gathered throughout the evening, crowds ballooned to 100,000 people, local police said. At least 20,000 more gathered in Belo Horizonte.
The demonstrations are the first time that Brazilians, since a recent decade of steady economic growth, are collectively questioning the status quo.
The protests have gathered pace as Brazil is hosting the Confederation’s Cup, a dry run for next year’s World Cup soccer championship. The government hopes these events, along with the 2016 Summer Olympics, will showcase Brazil as an emerging power on the global stage.
Brazil also is gearing up to welcome more than two million visitors in July as Pope Francis makes his first foreign trip for a gathering of Catholic youth in Rio. (Reuters)