RIO DE JANEIRO – More than half a million Brazilians poured into the streets of at least 80 cities Thursday in demonstrations that saw violent clashes and renewed calls for an end to government corruption and demands for better public services.
Riot police battled protesters in at least five cities, with some of the most intense clashes happening in Rio de Janeiro, where an estimated 300,000 demonstrators swarmed into the seaside citys central area.
Young men gathered in groups in Rio, T-shirts wrapped around their faces, throwing tear gas canisters back at police, some of whom raced after troublemakers on their motorcycles. Booms echoed off stately colonial buildings as rubber bullets and the gas were fired at fleeing crowds.
At least 30 people were injured in Rio, including Michele Menezes, 26, who said that she and others took refuge from the violence in an open bar, only to have a police officer toss a tear gas canister inside.
This was meant to be a peaceful demonstration, and it is, said artist Wanderlei Costa, 33, in Brasilia. Its a shame some people cause trouble when there is a much bigger message behind this movement. Brazil needs to change, not only on the government level, but also on the grass-roots level. We have to learn to demonstrate without violence.
The protests took place one week after a violent police crackdown on a much smaller protests in Sao Paulo galvanized Brazilians to take to the streets.
The unrest comes one month before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the nation, and ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, raising concerns about how Brazilian officials will provide security.
Despite the energy on the street, many protesters said they were unsure how the movement would win real political concessions.
People in the protests have held up signs asking for changes as varied as education reforms and free bus fare while denouncing the billions of public dollars spent on stadiums in advance of the World Cup and the Olympics.