By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Over a million people are estimated to have taken to the streets in Brazil’s state capitals on Thursday evening, with fresh protests seen in over 100 cities from Manaus to Porto Alegre, despite a government U-turn on rises to bus and metro fares in cities in over twelve states and promises of better public services.
While many of the protests were peaceful, notable exceptions included two cities hosting Confederations Cup matches, Rio and Salvador, both of which saw protesters clashing with police.
In Rio, 300,000 were reported to have joined protests across the city, which left at least 36 people needing hospital treatment, due to fights and falls, as well as injuries sustained from rubber bullets and tear gas used by police.
The scene in the center of São Paulo, on Avenida Paulista, was calm, with police estimating up to 100,000 took part in peaceful protests on the city’s central business avenue.
Meanwhile, the first death of the protests was confirmed in Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo state, when a car ran over a young man while reportedly attempting to break through the blockade set up by protesters. Others were hurt in the incident.
In the capital, Brasília, a group of protesters tried to enter the Itamaraty – Brazil’s Foreign Ministry; over thirty people were treated for injuries sustained in protests there.
President Dilma Rousseff has canceled a trip to Japan in response to the ongoing unrest across Brazil, and has summoned ministers, including the Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo, to an emergency meeting on Friday.
Fewer slogans at the protests were aimed at transport; many more demanded President Rousseff’s removal from office and displayed protesters’ opposition to PT, the Workers’ Party of which President Rousseff, former President Lula and incumbent São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad are all part.
Some highlighted the controversial PEC 37 constitutional amendment, which would put powers of criminal investigation exclusively in the hands of the federal and civil police, and remove those rights from other organs, particularly the Ministério Público (Public Prosecutor).
Others held aloft banners fiercely opposing the so-called “gay cure” human rights motion, linked to the scandal-hit head of the commission Pastor Marco Feliciano, which would legalize promoting “treatments” for homosexuality. Chants could also heard against football stars Pelé and Ronaldo for recent comments condemning anti-World Cup sentiment.
With such a wide-reaching protest movement, the question many people are now asking is where the protest movement goes from here.
In a Reuters interview, the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement) – the forty-strong organization whose campaign then set the stage for the current countrywide protests – was itself unsure how far and where the protests would lead: “It’s up to the people now to decide the path the (wider) struggle will take,” said 23-year-old university student Nina Cappello.
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