Brazil in turmoil as thousands take to the streets

SAO PAULO: Demonstrators took to the streets once again across Latin America's biggest country in a new wave of protests that have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people denouncing poor public services and government corruption.

The biggest of the more than 80 protests appeared to hit Rio de Janeiro, where tens of thousands of people waving flags and carrying banners blocked several streets and avenues in a peaceful demonstration. Police cordoned off the area around Rio's iconic Maracana Stadium, worried that protesters would try to disrupt the Confederations Cup soccer match under way inside.

Crowds also gathered in dozens of other towns as well on the main street of Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo, marking a week since protests first erupted there over a hike in subway and bus fares. The demonstrations have since ballooned into a national phenomenon, with many middle-class Brazilians hitting the streets to decry a spectrum of everyday problems amid a commodities-fueled economic boom.

In the northeastern city of Salvador, police shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse a small crowd of protesters trying to break through a police barrier blocking one of the city's streets. One woman was injured in her foot. Elsewhere in Salvador some 5,000 protesters gathered in Campo Grand Square.

Despite the energy on the street, many protesters said they were unsure how the movement would win real political concessions. People in the protests held up signs asking for everything from education reforms to free bus fare. They've also denounced the billions of public dollars spent on stadiums in advance of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio.

Several city leaders have already accepted protester demands to revoke an increase in bus and subway fares in the hopes that anti-government anger cools. In Sao Paulo, where demonstrators blocked Paulista Avenue, organizers said they would turn their demonstration into a party celebrating the lower transit fares. But many believe the protests are no longer just about bus fares and have become larger cries for systemic changes. That message went to the heart of Brazilian power, the capital of Brasilia, which saw its largest demonstration yet with 20.000 people gathered in the Esplanada dos Ministerios, the government center.

The crowd marched down the enormous plaza with signs highlighting different causes and rainbow flags defending gay rights. Many also denounced a pending bill in Brazil's Congress that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as an illness. Police formed a barrier in front of Congress to keep protesters from climbing on the roof of the building as they did Monday, when 10,000 protesters filled the capital.

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