RIO DE JANEIRO: A new wave of street protests swept Brazil on Sunday amid mounting popular support for demands for wide-ranging institutional reform and investment in crumbling public services.
Many are frustrated that, after years of under-investment in Brazil’s sagging infrastructure, billions of dollars are being poured into ensuring next year’s World Cup is a tourist extravaganza.
Brazilians mostly still want the country to host the competition for the first time since 1950 — but not at the expense of living standards, something protesters say politicians do not care about.
Some 2,000 people marched along the promenade of Rio de Janeiro’s world famous Copacabana beach.
“I don’t think this is like Egypt or Libya or Tunisia — we are not at war with each other. But enough is enough,” Anderson Luis Rosa, a 31-year-old teacher, told AFP.
“I have my Guy Fawkes mask with me,” he beamed, displaying one of the plastic masks that have come to symbolize youth protest worldwide since the Occupy Wall Street marches in the United States.
“But no, we don’t want to burn down parliament,” he said, insisting that the marchers want peaceful but concrete reform, not to blow up parliament as the 17th century British rebel Fawkes had planned.
Most protesters were not convinced by Friday’s pledge from President Dilma Rousseff to improve shoddy public services and fight harder against rampant corruption — the main grudges of the street protesters.
“Dilma is finished, we don’t trust any politician,” added Liliana Romeiro, a pensioner.
A poll published Saturday by the Ibope polling agency showed three quarters of Brazilians back the protests, with 77 percent citing the high cost of using public transport as the key reason for their dissatisfaction.
But two-thirds were still in favor of hosting the World Cup, despite the huge bill to the country, estimated at $15 billion.
Some protesters have slammed world football body FIFA, saying it has dictated the pace of World Cup investment.
But the organization’s secretary general Jerome Valcke insisted: “We are not telling the Brazilians what to do.”
Although most of the protests have been peaceful, there is a militant edge as hard liners grow impatient for change.
Sao Paulo’s “Free Transport” movement urged “large scale action” for the week ahead while numerous social media clamored for a general strike, warning: “On July 1, 2013, Brazil will grind to a halt.”
But Sunday’s protests were much more genteel affairs than those which saw sporadic violence as 300,000 people turned out in central Rio.
The wave of protests began on June 11 when residents of Sao Paulo took to the streets to denounce an increase in public transport fares. Unrest spread quickly and the entire country has become engulfed in protest.
By June 17, more than 200,000 people were in the streets and by Saturday their ranks had swelled to some 1.5 million.
Saturday saw dozens of arrests and some 20 people were reported injured, including five police officers, after more than 70,000 people chanting “Who is the cup for?” rallied in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.
Brazil are due to play the semi-final of the Confederations Cup, a dry-run for next year’s World Cup, in the same city on Wednesday.
Police fired tear gas in an attempt to quell Saturday’s unrest after stone throwing protesters tried to break through the security perimeter around Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium while some shops and banks were looted.
Although demonstrations were much smaller in Salvador, where Brazil beat Italy, some fans in the stadium brandished placards proclaiming: “Let’s go to the streets to change Brazil.”
With the mass unrest placing Brazil in the global public eye, Brazilian media earlier sought to explain the rationale for the popular uprising.