By Alfred Rinaldi, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One week after violent clashes between protesters and police resulted in the death of a cameraman in Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, the nation’s capital, was the backdrop to fresh confrontations between demonstrators from the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) and police.
At least twelve protesters and thirty police officers were injured when 15,000 supporters and members of the landless peasants’ group tried to approach government buildings. Eight police officers remain in serious condition.
The protests took place in front of the Planalto Palace – the official residence of president Dilma Rousseff, who was in the building at the time the disturbances broke out. The demonstrators had come to Brasília as part of their long-running campaign for land reform.
Brazil’s constitution stipulates that unproductive farm land may be expropriated by the government as long as owners are compensated. Brazil, an agricultural powerhouse, has one of the world’s most unequal distributions of farm land. Historically, the Workers’ Party has had close ties to the MST, but the group’s leaders charge Rousseff with inaction compared to her predecessor.
While the president’s own forces were deployed to assist 650 police in protecting the head of state, the country’s Supreme Court was forced to suspend its session in the face of an imminent storming. Police used rubber bullets and teargas to fight back the Landless Workers’ crowds, who were, according to O Globo, fighting back police barricades with an arsenal of sticks, paving stones and hammers.
The Commander of the Metropolitan Region’s Military Police, coronel Florisvaldo Ferreira César, claimed that the protest had been hijacked by extremists. “I don’t believe that people from the Landless Workers’ Movement were responsible [for the violence]”, he commented. “I have worked with the Movement for fourteen years and this is the first time I have seen policemen injured in this way.”
The protesters, on the other hand, accused police of violence. “We were repressed by police, first in front of the Supreme Court, then in front of the Presidential Palace. This is inconceivable and unacceptable”, said José Ricardo Silva, a member of the Landless Workers’ Movement’s National Directorate. “It once more shows the inability of the government to meet our movement’s demands.”
In response to the protests, Rousseff sent one of her chief ministers, Gilberto Carvalho, to meet with the MST leaders. President Rousseff also agreed to receive representatives from the Landless Workers’ Movement for talks today at 9AM.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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