Some of country’s biggest ever rallies sweep major cities as bus fare rise is last straw in spiral of high costs and poor services
Brazil experienced one of its biggest nights of protest in decades on Monday as more than 100,000 people took to the streets nationwide to express their frustration at heavyhanded policing, poor public services and high costs for the World Cup.
The major demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia, Belem, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and elsewhere started peacefully but several led to clashes with police and arson attacks on cars and buses.
The large turnout and geographic spread marked a rapid escalation after smaller protests last week against bus price increases led to complaints that police responded disproportionately with rubber bullets, tear gas and violent beatings.
Coinciding with the start of the Confederations Cup – a World Cup test event – the rallies brought together a wide coalition of people frustrated with the escalating costs and persistently poor quality of public services, lavish investment on international sporting events, low standards of healthcare and wider unease about inequality and corruption.
While the vast majority of demonstrations were peaceful, several police were injured in clashes at the city’s legislative assembly, at least one car was overturned and burned and windows were smashed in the offices of banks and notary offices.
The unrest escalated during the night as a large crowd set several fires outside the legislative assembly, smashed the building’s windows and daubed graffiti on the walls proclaiming “Revolution”, “Down with Paes, down with Cabral [the mayor and state governor]” and “Hate police”. Police inside responded with pepper spray and perhaps more – the Guardian saw one protester passed out and bleeding heavily from a wound in the upper arm.
The causes pursued by the protesters varied widely. “We are here because we hate the government. They do nothing for us,” said Oscar José Santos, a 19-year-old who was with a group of hooded youths from the Rocinha favela.
“I’m an architect but I have been unemployed for six months. There must be something wrong with this country,” said Nadia al Husin, holding up a banner calling on the government to do more for education.
At a far smaller rally in Brasilia demonstrators broke through police lines to enter the high-security area of the national congress. Several climbed on to the roof.
In Belo Horizonte police clashed with protesters who tried to break through a cordon around a football stadium hosting a Confederations Cup match between Nigeria and Tahiti.
In Port Alegre demonstrators set fire to a bus and in Curitiba protesters attempted to force their way into the office of the state governor. There were also rallies in Belem, Salvador and elsewhere.
In São Paulo, which had seen the fiercest clashes last week and the main allegations of police violence, large crowds gathered once again but initial reports suggested the marches passed peacefully.