RIO DE JANEIRO – More than a million Brazilians poured into the streets of at least 80 cities Thursday in this week’s largest anti-government demonstrations yet, protests that saw violent clashes break out in several cities as people demanding improved public services and an end to corruption faced tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
In Rio de Janeiro, where an estimated 300,000 demonstrators swarmed into the seaside city’s central area, running clashes played out between riot police and clusters of mostly young men, their T-shirts wrapped around their faces. But several peaceful protesters were caught up in the crackdown, 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 the gas were fired at fleeing crowds. At least 40 people were injured in Rio.
In Brasilia, police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry, outside of which protesters lit a small fire. Other government buildings were attacked around the capital’s central esplanade. There, too, police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets in attempts to scatter the crowds.
Clashes were also reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in the university town Campinas north of Sao Paulo and in the northeastern Brazilian city of Salvador.
The protests took place one week after a violent police crackdown on much smaller protests in Sao Paulo galvanized Brazilians to take to the streets.
The unrest is hitting the nation as it hosts the Confederations Cup football tournament with tens of thousands of foreign visitors in attendance. It also comes one month before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the nation.