SAO PAULO, (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff pledged yesterday to maintain order on the streets, condemning the acts of violence and vandalism that have marred the country’s largest protest in 20 years and promising security forces would defend public property.
In a televised address, Rousseff reiterated her government’s support for social change and said she had an obligation to listen to the voices on the street and conduct a dialogue with all sides.
A backlash against nationwide protests took hold yesterday after widespread rioting, as even the leftist group at the movement’s core said it would stop organizing marches for now because of growing discord and violence.
This was the day after 1 million people in more than 100 cities took to the streets. There may be no easy response to the unrest that has taken the country by surprise and contributed to a selloff in local financial markets.
Sporadic protests flared again yesterday, with vandalism occurring in poorer districts of Rio de Janeiro. Police on Thursday chased looters from the city that will host the 2016 Olympic Games. The streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s business center, were the quietest they have been all week, though some marched in favor of gay rights.
Additional demonstrations were likely prior to a Brazil versus Italy soccer game today, part of a warm-up event for next year’s World Cup, while groups were exchanging proposals on Facebook and elsewhere to schedule possible protests early next week.
The unrest blossomed over the past week as Brazilians, frustrated by a range of problems from corruption to poor public transport, responded to calls on social media and took part in the country’s biggest demonstrations in 20 years.
Unlike other recent protest movements such as the Arab Spring, Brazil’s protesters are not targeting any individual politician and Rousseff remains relatively popular. Many demonstrators are part of the middle class, which benefited from a recent economic boom, but they are upset about paying European-level taxes for what some describe as African-level public services.
The peaceful, even celebratory atmosphere that had attracted many university students and even their parents to demonstrations over the past week took a big and possibly lasting hit on Thursday night.
TV images showed masked youths looting stores, setting fires and defacing buildings including the foreign ministry in Brasilia, which had its windows smashed. The violence was widespread, occurring in at least a dozen cities, and appeared to be fueled by fringe movements and common criminals taking advantage of the disorder.
Two people died as a result of the protests, local media reported, including one death caused by a car plowing into a crowd. More than 60 were injured in Rio de Janeiro alone.