SAO PAULO: Tens of thousands of people marched through Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, on Monday as protests spread over rising public transport prices and the cost of staging the 2014 World Cup.
Marches took place in at least ten cities including the capital, Brasilia, where demonstrators climbed onto the roof of the national congress building.
Protesters also clashed with police near Rio de Janeiro’s state assembly. The unrest began last week, after the announcement of increased bus fares.
But the complaints of demonstrators soon extended beyond transport costs when clashes in Sao Paulo led to claims of excessive use of force by police. Dozens of people were hurt, including several journalists.
Since then, protesters have voiced frustration at public transport, security, health and the extent of public investment in two international football tournaments.
The protests have increased since the start of the Confederations Cup on Saturday, seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup.
As Monday’s protests gathered strength, demonstrators in the capital, Brasilia, breached the high security area of the national congress building, climbing onto the roof of the Oscar Niemeyer-designed structure.
In Sao Paulo, some 65,000 people brought the country’s largest city to a standstill, as police stood by and watched.
Security chiefs had met protest organisers earlier in an attempt to avert trouble and announced that regular police would not carry rubber bullet guns at the demonstration.
In Rio, another big crowd took to the streets of the city centre. As protesters reportedly tried to enter the state assembly, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
Demonstrators also set fire to a car and lit three bonfires on the streets.
There were also protests in Belem and clashes in Belo Horizonte, as protesters tried to make their way to a stadium hosting a Confederations Cup match between Tahiti and Nigeria.
In the northern city of Maceio, a student was reportedly shot in the face by a motorist angry with a crowd that blocked the road.
Marches also happened in Vitoria, Porto Alegre, Novo Hamburgo and other cities.
The spark for Brazil’s escalating protests was a 2 June increase in the price of a single bus fare in Sao Paulo from 3 reals ($1.40, £0.90) to 3.20 reals.
Authorities say the rise is well below inflation, which since the last price increase in January 2011 has been at 15.5%, according to official figures.
Protesters who initially campaigned against bus fares have also expressed anger about inequality and corruption, demanding higher public spending on education and health.
Last Thursday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators, many of whom were reported hurt.
Dozens of buses and buildings have so far been damaged, prompting Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin to describe demonstrators as “vandals”.
Before Saturday’s opening Confederations Cup match in the capital, Brasilia, protesters tried to approach the Mane Garrincha stadium, but were dispersed by the police.
The following day, a similar march close to the Maracana stadium in Rio, where Mexico were playing Italy, was ended by police with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Eyewitnesses said police had used riot control measures – including firing rubber bullets and tear gas – against peaceful protesters.
Police denied they had acted unlawfully but said they would investigate the allegations.