Rio de Janiero: Police and protesters fought in the streets into the early hours on Friday as an estimated 1 million Brazilians swarmed through more than 80 Brazilian cities in the biggest demonstrations yet against a government viewed as corrupt at all levels and unresponsive to its people.
President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting of her top Cabinet members for Friday morning, more than a week after the protests began. Ms. Rousseff, who has a standoffish governing style, has been almost entirely absent from the public eye, making only one statement earlier in the week that peaceful protests are part of the democratic process.
But the protests that raged across Brazil late on Thursday and into Friday were spiked with violence as people vented anger over a litany of complaints, from high taxes to corruption to rising prices.
In Rio de Janeiro, where an estimated 300,000 demonstrators poured into the seaside city’s central area, running clashes played out between riot police and clusters of mostly young men with T-shirts wrapped around their faces. But peaceful protesters were caught up in the fray, too, as police fired tear gas canisters into their midst and at times indiscriminately used pepper spray.
Thundering booms echoed off stately colonial buildings as rubber bullets and gas were fired at fleeing crowds.
In Ribeirao Preto, around 300 kilometres north of Sao Paolo, an 18-year-old man was killed and three people were injured late on Thursday when they were hit by a car trying to drive around a barricade.
The driver of the Land Rover drove away from the scene without stopping, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper and other local media reported.
One of the injured was in a serious condition, the reports said.
Incidents were also reported in Salvador and in the political capital Brasilia around 20,000 people demonstrated in front of the seat of the Congress. About 10,000 people demonstrated in Recife.
President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a planned trip to Japan to deal with the unrest and public dissatisfaction, her spokesman said.
In Brasilia, the national capital, police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry, while the crowd set a small fire outside. Other government buildings were attacked around the city’s central esplanade. There, too, police used tear gas and rubber bullets trying to scatter demonstrators.
Clashes were also reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, Porto Alegre in the south, the university town Campinas north of Sao Paulo and the northeastern city of Salvador.
The crowds grew despite the decision announced on Wednesday by the country’s major cities to abandon the hike in public transport fares that sparked the first protests last week.
The protests are taking place as Brazil hosts the Confederations Cup football tournament. The country is gearing up for the World Cup next year and the summer Olympics in 2016. People are complaining about high taxes that they link to the cost of hosting the events.