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Brazil braces for fresh protests

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Brazil braced for more mass protests Sunday a day after a poll showed most people back demands for improvements to crumbling public services and for wide-ranging institutional reform.

Under normal circumstances, Brazilians would be celebrating their football team reaching the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup, which the country has not hosted since 1950.

But these are not normal circumstances. And even after the ‘Selecao’, five-time world champions, defeated Italy to keep up their perfect record at this year’s tournament, there were huge protests in more than 100 cities.

Most protesters are not convinced by a Friday pledge from President Dilma Rousseff to improve shoddy public services and fight harder against rampant corruption — the main grudges of the street protesters.

A poll Saturday by the Ibope polling agency showed three quarters of Brazilians back the wave of protests, with 77 percent citing the high cost of using public transport as the key reason for their dissatisfaction.

But two-thirds were overall in favour of hosting the World Cup, despite anger at the billions of dollars the event’s preparation and hosting will cost — money many feel could be better spent on education, transport and housing.

Almost two weeks into the unrest, while most of the protests have been peaceful there is a militant edge as hard liners grow impatient for change.

Sao Paulo’s ‘free transport’ movement urged “large scale action” for the week ahead while numerous users of social media posted a clear message – “On July 1, 2013, Brazil will grind to a halt” – as they clamoured for strike action via Twitter and Facebook.

A group of youths meanwhile remained camped outside the house of Rio governor Sergio Cabral in the chic suburb of Leblon as police stood guard.

Sunday was set to see renewed protests in Rio de Janeiro, where around 300,000 people turned out for a Thursday protest which saw sporadic violence.

Police said Sunday they had arrested a 29-year-old man in connection with causing criminal damage during an attempted storming of the Rio prefecture

The ‘Día de Basta’ urged people to gather at the city’s famed Copacabana beach while scores of messages on Twitter and Facebook called for strikes on Thursday.

Further protests were scheduled for Sao Bernardo do Campo in Sao Paulo state and in Fortaleza in the north east, where world champions Spain were meeting Nigeria.

The wave of protests began on June 11 when residents of Sao Paulo took to the streets to denounce an increase in public transport fares.

Unrest quickly spread on the eve of the Confederations Cup and the entire country has become engulfed in protest as Brazilians declare the time has come to “wake up” and fight sloppy and corrupt government, and lousy public services like schools, health care and public transport.

By June 17, more than 200,000 people were in the streets and by Saturday their ranks had swelled to some 1.5 million.

Saturday saw dozens of arrests and some 20 people were reported injured, including five police officers, after more than 70,000 people chanting “The Cup for whom?” rallied in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

Brazil are due to play their semifinal in the same city on Wednesday.

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to quell Saturday’s unrest after some protesters hurled stones and tried to break through the security perimeter around Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium while some shops and banks were looted.

Although demonstrations were much smaller in Salvador, where Brazil beat Italy, some fans in the stadium made their feelings plain by brandishing placards proclaiming: “Let’s go to the streets to change Brazil.”

With the mass unrest placing Brazil squarely in the global public eye, Brazilian media on Sunday sought to explain the rationale for the popular uprising.

“Brazil in the streets – Disillusioned youth,” was the headline in O Globo daily.

In an interview with the paper French sociologist Michel Maffesoli said the spark for the protests may have been seemingly trivial at the outset – a 20 cents rise in bus fares.

But, noting the outpouring of “collective emotion,” Maffesoli said that “young people do not recognise where they fit into the (government) programme.”

Drawing a parallel with popular protests in France at the end of the 1960s, he added: “I see these movements as a postmodern version of May 1968,” where popular revolts initially by students demanding university reform ultimately led to a general strike.

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