By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – At least 235 people have been arrested and 55 injured as violence took over the streets of central São Paulo last night, after a fresh protest against a recent hike in bus and metro fares, again, ended with protesters entering into running battles with police forces.
It was the fourth and largest such protest the city has seen to date. Up to 20,000 had been expected to take part, according to some sources.
Police and riot squads, some on horses, engaged protesters with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. Demonstrators, mainly young people, mounted barricades, blocking many central roads.
One protester, speaking to The Rio Times by phone from the protest, spoke of widespread police aggression, saying he had witnessed a protester “losing part of her foot” as a stun grenade was launched in her direction, despite protesters pleading for no violence to be used.
Police said groups of protesters were out of control, throwing Molotov cocktails at officers and vandalizing buses and other public property.
Police riot teams were ordered to block the progress of the protests, but demonstrators split up into groups, reaching and blocking Avenida Paulista, one of São Paulo’s central business arteries.
Several members of the press were also reportedly arrested, and at least seven reporters from newspaper Folha de São Paulo were injured – two shot in the face by rubber bullets. Helicopters and sirens could be heard over central São Paulo well into the night.
São Paulo Secretary for Public Security, Fernando Grella Vieira, said an immediate investigation would be opened into police violence towards protesters and journalists.
Geraldo Alckmin, Governor for São Paulo, tweeted that “destruction, violence and obstructing public roads are not acceptable,” adding that the São Paulo government “will not tolerate vandalism.”
São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad was defiant, reiterating that bus tickets would not be reduced, justifying the rise imposed as “below inflation.”
Justice minister José Eduardo Cardozo told the São Paulo authorities that the Federal Government was “available” to help, if needed, adding that he supported legitimate demonstrations, but strongly disagreed with any form of violent protest.
Around 2,000 people also protested against an bus fare hikes in the southern city of Porto Alegre, and similar protests were also reported in the northeastern cities of Natal and Maceió.
At the beginning of the month, bus, metro and local train (CPTM) tickets in São Paulo rose from R$3 to R$3.20; prices in Rio went up from R$2.75 to R$2.95.
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