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Violence mars Brazil protest over transport price hike

Fireworks were hurled at police, who responded forcefully with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets

17.01.2015
Violence mars Brazil protest over transport price hike

By Ben Tavener

SAO PAULO

The second major protest against a recent price hike in public transit fares this year ended in violence Friday evening, with a number of protesters arrested in central São Paulo.

The demonstration and march, called by the MPL, the Free Fare Movement, gathered 3,000 protesters, according to police estimates; organizers said 20,000 attended. An Anadolu correspondent at the scene put the total at about 5,000.

The protest, which began on Avenida Paulista -- the city's central business thoroughfare -- filed peacefully toward the historic city center and City Hall, where organizers projected messages on the façade of the building, including the image of the city’s mayor Fernando Haddad and the words "Je Suis Catraca" in reference to terror attacks in Paris last week. 

Catraca is Portuguese for turnstile, which the movement wants removed from public transport.

A tense atmosphere spilled over, however, as fireworks, stones and glass were thrown at police, who responded with what some would call extreme force. Officers launched a tirade of tear gas, stun grenades and volleys of rubber bullets at protesters -- at times, apparently indiscriminately.

At least six were injured in the chaos, including a police officer. Police said at least three bank agencies were also vandalized as protesters dispersed. Ensuing arrests were carried out violently, with police “kettling" detained individuals. 

The MPL said it believed at least 13 people were arrested, and that police had prevented lawyers and legal observers from carrying out their duties. Police had not yet disclosed final arrest tallies at the time of this writing.

The protest movement later accused the police of targeting protesters disproportionately with "gratuitous attacks," but police released video that purported to show protesters attacked police first.

One of the protesters, 36-year-old Leandro Narciso from Mogi das Cruzes, said that a small minority of protesters had "jeopardized" the event, but that police were unprepared and treated protesters like "terrorists.”

"Yes, there are some [violent protesters] here in the middle of the protest ... which jeopardizes what we want to be a peaceful protest, but also the way the police deal with protesters is shameful. It just goes to show ... how unprepared the police forces are.”

MPL leader Luíza Tavares said that the social movement continue to demonstrate until public transport fares not only saw a recent price hike on Jan. 6 from $1.14 (3 reais) to $1.33 (3.50 reais) reversed, but until transport was free for all.

“The MPL thinks transport should be integrated and unrestricted for absolutely everyone in the city," she said and vowed that the group would work "against that transport fare and we'll stay on the street until it goes down.”

Last week's protest also ended in violence, as well as 53 arrests. The MPL has called a third protest for Tuesday, Jan. 20. 

The group's protest movement in mid-2013, then against an 8-cent (20-centavo) rise in transport fares, triggered huge protests across the country, with more than a million Brazilians taking to the streets to express a wide variety of grievances.

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