By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Tuesday (December 6th) afternoon, the normally busy streets of Rio’s commercial Centro neighborhood resembled a combat zone as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, fire bombs, stones and other debris were launched through the streets as protestors battled with police outside of Rio de Janeiro’s Legislative Assembly headquarters (Alerj).
The protesters, comprised of mostly of various civil workers, including military police officers, civilian police officers, prison officers, and firefighters, gathered in front of Alerj at the Palácio Tirandentes on Rua Primeiro de Março to voice their disapproval of the state’s fiscal adjustment package began which entered day one of voting on Tuesday.
According to the Military Police (PM), the widespread turmoil began about 1PM after a heated speech by one of the protest leaders. The speech incited protesters to rush the protective grids surrounding Alerj in an attempt to overthrow the building. For the past two weeks, iron bars and a large contingent of military police had surrounded the building.
Protestors hurled homemade bombs, and other flammable objects at the police guarding the building and the melee ensued, with police deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.
The battle lasted for several hours and paralyzed Rio’s commercial district, with many large thoroughfares having to close, stores having to shut down, and the VLT discontinuing service.
At time of writing, at least two protesters and eleven policemen were injured in the altercation, with nine protesters arrested. According to local news, inside Alerj many employees and government officials were forced to wear gas masks as tear gas penetrated the building walls.
In a statement following the incident, the Rio de Janeiro Bar Association (OAB-RJ) condemned the violence used by police forces during the demonstration noting that Rio de Janeiro’s public authorities lost their ability to manage the crisis.
“In a democracy, the right of expression can not be surpassed by the disproportionate use of force,” said the OAB. “The OAB/RJ charges the government of the state to investigate and punish all the agents who committed these acts.”