By George Powell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For the second time this month, Rio’s city center was rocked by percussion grenades and tear gas as thousands of people took to the streets on Monday in support of striking schoolteachers.
Somewhere between ten and 50,000 protesters left Candelária in Centro shortly after 5PM and made their way to Cinelândia, where they gathered in front of City Hall.
The teachers were joined by striking bankers and by masked members of the anarchist group Black Bloc, who were actively involved in last Tuesday’s skirmishes, which saw the death of a protester and extensive damage to property in the same part of town.
In an effort to minimize violent clashes, Rio’s Military Police allowed the demonstrators to pass freely and gather in Cinelândia. The protest remained largely peaceful until shortly after 8PM when a group of masked protesters began lighting fires in the streets running along side Rio’s City Council building and destroying newsstands and banks.
Many of the teachers left the square around this time and the protests soon turned into vandalism, with a group of 200 or so turning their attention to City Hall, shooting fireworks and throwing rocks at the building’s doors and windows. Rio’s Military Police responded with a volley of tear gas rockets which sent protesters running.
The metro stations in the area were closed one by one as the chaos and confusion continued. Shortly after 9PM, protesters set fire to a bus on the Avenida Rio Branco, one of Centro’s main arteries, while another group set up burning barricades and threw rocks and molotov cocktails at the United States consulate.
Between 9:30PM and 10PM, the majority of the demonstrators began making their way towards Lapa, where shop and bar owners closed up for the night with police continuing to fire tear gas and percussion grenades. Relative peace and quiet returned to the streets of Centro at around 11PM.
This demonstration comes just a few months after massive protests against the poor quality of the country’s basic services gripped Brazil’s major cities. At the time, some protests also turned to violence and vandalism. While the way in which Rio’s police handled those demonstrations in June was labeled as excessive, some observers claim last night was marked by inaction from the police. Rio’s teachers stormed a session of the City Council last week. They have been on a strike demanding better wages since September 20th.
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