100,000 protesters flood Brazilian streets in protest

SAO PAULO (AP) - In some of the biggest protests since the end of Brazil's 1964-85 dictatorship, demonstrations have spread across this continent-sized country and united people from all walks of life behind frustrations over poor transportation, health services, education and security despite a heavy tax burden.

More than 100,000 people were in the streets on Monday for largely peaceful protests in at least eight big cities. They were in large part motivated by widespread images of Sao Paulo police last week beating demonstrators and firing rubber bullets into groups during a march that drew 5,000.

There was some violence, with police and protesters clashing in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte. The newspaper O Globo, citing Rio state security officials, said at least 20 officers and 10 protesters were injured there.

Monday's protests come after the opening matches of soccer's Confederations Cup over the weekend, just one month before a papal visit, a year before the World Cup and three years ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The unrest is raising some security concerns, especially after the earlier protests produced injury-causing clashes with police.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic hub, at least 65,000 protesters gathered on Monday at a small, treeless plaza then broke into three directions in a Carnival atmosphere, with drummers beating out samba rhythms as people chanted anti-corruption jingles.

They also railed against the matter that sparked the first protests last week - a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares.

Thousands of protesters in the capital, Brasilia, peacefully marched on Congress. Dozens scrambled up a ramp to a low-lying roof, clasping hands and raising their arms, the light from below sending their elongated shadows onto the structure's large, hallmark upward-turned bowl designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer. Some congressional windows were broken, but police did not use force to contain the damage.

"This is a communal cry saying: 'We're not satisfied,"' Maria Claudia Cardoso said on a Sao Paulo avenue, taking turns waving a sign reading "(hash)revolution" with her 16-year-old son, Fernando, as protesters streamed by.

"We're massacred by the government's taxes - yet when we leave home in the morning to go to work, we don't know if we'll make it home alive because of the violence," she added.

"We don't have good schools for our kids. Our hospitals are in awful shape. Corruption is rife. These protests will make history and wake our politicians up to the fact that we're not taking it anymore!"

Protest leaders went to pains to tell marchers that damaging public or private property would only hurt their cause. In Sao Paulo, sentiments were at first against the protests last week after windows were broken and buildings spray painted during the demonstrations.

Police, too, changed tactics. In Sao Paulo, commanders said publicly before the protest they would try to avoid violence, but warned they could resort to force if protesters destroyed property. During the first hours of the march that continued into the night there was barely any perceptible police presence.

The Sao Paulo march itself was a family affair: A group of mothers received a rousing cheer when they arrived at the plaza where the march began, brandishing signs that read "Mothers Who Care Show Support."

"I'm here to make sure police don't hurt these kids," said Sandra Amalfe, whose 16-year-old daughter chatted with friends nearby.

"We need better education, hospitals and security - not billions spent on the World Cup."

Officers in Rio fired tear gas and rubber bullets when a group of protesters invaded the state legislative assembly and hurled rocks and flares at police. But most of the tens of thousands who protested in Rio did so peacefully, many of them dressed in white and brandishing placards and banners.

In Belo Horizonte, police estimated about 20,000 people took part in a peaceful protest before a Confederations Cup match between Tahiti and Nigeria. Earlier in the day, demonstrators erected several barricades of burning tires on a nearby highway, disrupting traffic.

Protests also were reported in Curitiba, Belem and Salvador.

Marcos Lobo, a 45-year-old music producer who joined the protest in Sao Paulo, said the actions of police during earlier demonstrations persuaded him to come out on Monday.

"I thought they (the protests) were infantile at first because of my preconceived notions," Lobo said. "Then I saw the aggression."

Another protester, Manoela Chiabai, said she wanted to express her dissatisfaction with the status quo.

"Everything in Brazil is a mess. There is no education, health care - no security. The government doesn't care," the 26-year-old photographer said. "We're a rich country with a lot of potential but the money doesn't go to those who need it most."

In a brief statement, President Dilma Rousseff, who faces re-election next year and whose popularity rating recently dipped for the first time in her presidency, acknowledged the protests, saying: "Peaceful demonstrations are legitimate and part of democracy. It is natural for young people to demonstrate."

Brazilians have long accepted malfeasance as a cost of doing business, whether in business or receiving public services. Brazilian government loses more than US$47 billion (S$58.8 billion) each year to undeclared tax revenue, vanished public money and other widespread corruption, according to the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo business group.

But in the last decade, about 40 million Brazilians have moved into the middle class and they have begun to demand more from government. Many are angry that billions of dollars in public funds are being spent to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics while few improvements are made elsewhere.

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