Protesters gather in Brazil despite concessions
SAO PAULO (AP) -- Protesters gathered for a new wave of massive demonstrations in Brazil on Thursday, extending the protests that have sent hundreds of thousands of people into the streets since last week to denounce poor public services and government corruption.
Police cordoned off Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana Stadium blocking access to protesters during the Spain-Tahiti Confederations Cup game. Only ticket-holders were allowed to enter.
The biggest of the more than 80 demonstrations was expected in Rio de Janeiro, where thousands of protesters waving flags and carrying banners demanding quality public services blocked several streets and avenues in a peaceful demonstration.
Thousands of people of all ages, many of them draped in flags or with stripes of Brazil's national green, yellow and blue painted onto their cheeks, gathered in front of the majestic domed Candelaria church in downtown Rio.
Several percussion groups pounded out Carnival rhythms and other groups chanted slogans targeting Rio's governor as the crowd thickened.
Vendors circulated among the mass, hawking popcorn, soft drinks, churros and even hot dogs grilled on the spot over smoldering charcoal. Men and women who make their living by collecting and selling recyclables darted about snatching up crumpled tin cans from under the protesters' feet. Groups of friends snapped pictures of one another striking poses with homemade signs.
Similar scenes were seen in Sao Paulo, Recife, Salvador and other cities where store and bank windows were boarded up in case the protests turned violent.
In the northeastern city of Salvador, police shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse a small crowd of protesters trying to break through a police barrier blocking one of the city's streets. One woman was injured in her foot.
Elsewhere in Salvador some 5,000 protesters gathered in Campo Grand Square.
"We pay a lot of money in taxes, for electricity, for services, and we want to know where that money is," said Italo Santos, a 25-year old student as he walked with five friends toward the square.
Several city leaders have already accepted protester demands to revoke an increase in bus and subway fares and hope that anti-government anger cools.
In Sao Paulo, where demonstrators blocked Paulista Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares, organizers said they would turn their demonstration into a party celebrating the lower transit fares. But many believe the protests are no longer just about bus fares and have become a cry for systemic changes in a country that's otherwise seen a decade-long economic boom.
The U.S. Embassy in Brazil wasn't taking any chances: It warned its citizens to stay away from the flurry of protests nationwide.
"It's not really about the price anymore," said Camila Sena, an 18-year-old university student at a Wednesday protest in Rio de Janeiro's sister city of Niteroi. "People are so disgusted with the system, so fed up that now we're demanding change."
Sena added that seeing money poured into soccer stadiums for the current Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup only added fuel to people's anger.
"It's not that we're against the World Cup, not at all. It will bring good things for Brazil. It's just that we're against the corruption that the World Cup has become an excuse for," she said.
Mass protests are rare in this 190 million-person country, with demonstrations generally attracting small numbers of politicized participants.
Many now marching in Brazil's streets hail from the growing middle class, which government figures show has ballooned by some 40 million people over the past decade amid a commodities-driven boom.
While the complaints of protesters are wide-ranging, there have been few answers about how to turn the disgruntlement into a coherent list of demands for the government.
In announcing the reversal of the fare hike, Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said it "will represent a big sacrifice and we will have to reduce investments in other areas." He didn't give details on where other cuts would occur.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes also said his city's fare increase would be rescinded.
Despite that, scattered street demonstrations sprang up Wednesday in some parts of Brazil, including well into the night in Niteroi, as protesters continued to call for better public services in return for high taxes and rising prices.
About 200 people also blocked the Anchieta Highway that links Sao Paulo, the country's biggest city, and the port of Santos before heading to the industrial suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo on Sao Paulo's outskirts. Another group of protesters later obstructed the highway again.
In the northeastern city of Fortaleza, 15,000 protesters clashed with police who kept them from reaching the Castelao stadium before Brazil's game with Mexico in the Confederations Cup.
"We are against a government that spends billions in stadiums while people are suffering across the country," said Natalia Querino, a 22-year-old student participating in the protest. "We want better education, more security and a better health system."