Brazil unrest persists after appeal by Rousseff

Protesters reject as ‘blah, blah, blah’ president’s promise to improve services

A demonstrator embraces a police commander in a gesture of peace during a protest in Salvador. Photograph: Reuters/Valter Pontes

A demonstrator embraces a police commander in a gesture of peace during a protest in Salvador. Photograph: Reuters/Valter Pontes

Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 01:00

Up to 750,000 people took to the streets of cities across Brazil over the weekend in renewed demonstrations against the country’s political class despite a speech by President Dilma Rousseff on Friday night promising to meet many of the protesters’ demands.

After a week in which she was largely silent as the country witnessed its biggest demonstrations in over two decades, Ms Rousseff went on national television to promise improvements in the country’s precarious public services, a key demand of protesters.

She promised to direct all royalties from oil production towards education, immediately hire thousands of foreign doctors to work for the public health service, and to meet governors and mayors to seal a national plan for better urban mobility.

The president also appealed for respect for foreigners visiting Brazil for the Confederations Cup after reports of rising anger within Fifa at how its staging of the World Cup in the country next year has become one of the principal targets of protesters’ anger.

But the president’s proposals did not dissuade crowds from returning to the streets, with placards at a march in São Paulo reading: “More blah blah blah”.

The proposed national urban mobility plan follows the government’s promise that investments in preparations for the World Cup would help revolutionise urban transport in the 12 host cities. But with many projects incomplete or yet to start despite spiralling costs, the failure to deliver much improvement for passengers is in part driving the wave of unrest.

Foreign doctors
Separately, four of the country’s largest medical associations threatened to use the courts to prevent the hiring of foreign doctors – most likely Cubans – by the public health service. In an open letter they denounced the move as “palliative, populist and hiding the real problems that face the public health system”.

Ms Rousseff also offered little on how to combat the endemic corruption among the country’s political class – a growing demand of protesters – beyond widening the country’s access-to-information law.

The continuing tone-deafness among politicians was emphasised when the head of the country’s senate, Renan Calheiros – himself accused of multiple acts of corruption – promised to reorganise the agenda of congress. One of the loudest and most persistent demands of protesters is that he quit the senate.

Football stadium
The day after Ms Rousseff’s address, more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Brazil’s third-biggest city, Belo Horizonte, in Saturday’s biggest demonstration.

Protesters tried to march to the football stadium where Mexico and Japan were playing as part of the Confederations Cup, Fifa’s dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup.

Many protesters were determined to breach the 2km Fifa-imposed cordon around the Minerão stadium, which they denounced as “unconstitutional”.

Impeded from reaching the ground, groups of masked youths at the front of the march clashed with police who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

As in previous protests, student demonstrators said police overreacted to the violence of a minority at a largely peaceful march.

In Rio de Janeiro public prosecutors have opened an investigation into possible police violence against peaceful demonstrators during disturbances that followed a mass rally in the city last Thursday.