RIO DE JANEIRO — More than 1 million Brazilians poured into the streets of at least 80 Brazilian cities Thursday in demonstrations that saw violent clashes and renewed calls for an end to government corruption and demands for better public services.
At least one protester was killed in São Paulo state after a car rammed into a crowd of demonstrators, the driver apparently angered about being unable to drive along a street.
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 city’s central area. Television images showed police firing tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets into crowds of young men, their faces wrapped in T-shirts. Other demonstrators were shown detained lying on sidewalks.
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, including protesters like Michele Menezes, 26. Bleeding and with her hair singed from the explosion of a tear-gas canister, she said that she and others took refuge from the violence in an open bar, only to have a police officer toss the canister inside.
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“I was leaving a peaceful protest and it’s not the thugs that attack me but the police themselves,” said Menezes.
In Brasília, the capital, police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry, outside of which protesters started a small fire. Other government buildings were attacked around the central esplanade. There, too, police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets in attempts to scatter the crowds.
Clashes also were reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belém, in Pôrto Alegre in the south, in the university town Campinas north of São Paulo and in the northeastern city of Salvador.
After a week of mass protests, Brazilians won the world’s attention and a pullback on the subway- and bus-fare increases that had first ignited their rage. But many say the real work is just beginning.
Middle-class protesters marching for the first time say the challenge for Brazilians is to keep alive the political spirit that was awakened during the past week, after decades of apathy. They say they hope leaders emerge at the forefront of an eclectic mass movement and present concrete demands to national and state governments.
In short, protesters say it’s time to organize around their grievances, ranging from ending government corruption to improving public education, health care and public safety. “I think leaders will emerge but in smaller groups,” said secretary Juliane Furno in São Paulo.
The unrest is hitting the nation as it hosts the Confederations Cup soccer tournament with tens of thousands of foreign visitors in attendance. It also 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.
Mass protests are rare in the 190 million-person country. The continuing, growing marches have caught Brazilian governments by surprise but have delighted many citizens. “I think we desperately need this, that we’ve been needing this for a very, very long time,” said Paulo Roberto Rodrigues da Cunha, 63, a clothing-store salesman in Rio.
President Dilma Rousseff, meanwhile, was meeting Thursday with advisers in the heavily guarded presidential palace, according to her media office.
Some protesters were optimistic. “This is the start of a structural change in Brazil,” said Aline Campos, 29, a publicist in Brasília.