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Anti-Government Protesters Take To Streets Across Brazil

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(SAO PAULO)  Brazilians took to the streets of cities and towns across the country Sunday for anti-government protests seen as a barometer of discontent with the increasingly unpopular President Dilma Rousseff.

Called mostly by activist groups via social media, Sunday’s demonstrations assailed Rousseff, who is fighting for her political life amid a snowballing corruption scandal that has embroiled politicians from her Workers’ Party, as well as a sputtering economy, spiraling currency and rising inflation.

It initially appeared the protests, the third of their kind this year, had drawn relatively modest crowds. Political analysts here have said that Sunday’s turnout could help determine the protest movement’s future, with massive crowds ratcheting up the pressure on the government. Sunday’s lower turnout, however, looked likely give Rousseff some breathing room.

Even in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s industrial and economic capital, where dissatisfaction with Rousseff has tended to run particularly high and protests in March and April drew thick crowds, turnout appeared significantly lower. Rousseff supporters in the city staged a small counter-demonstration in front of the offices of Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In Rio de Janeiro, several thousand people, many brandishing green and yellow Brazilian flags demonstrated along Copacabana Beach. The Rio demonstration was to coincide with a cycling test event for next year’s Olympic Games in the city, but organizers changed the route and timing of the sporting event to avoid a possible clash.

Protests took place in some 16 states, including in the Amazonian metropolis of Belem, Recife, in the northeast, and the central city of Belo Horizonte. In the capital, Brasilia, a march on a central avenue flanked by ministries and monuments also appeared to have drawn several thousand participants.

The demonstrations were called largely by web-based activist groups with demands ranging from Rousseff’s impeachment to a return to military dictatorship like the one that ruled the country from 1964-1985. But an end to corruption appeared to be a top demand, amid the widening probe into corruption at the state-run Petrobras oil company. Operation “Car Wash,” which began more than a year ago as an investigation into a bribes-for-contracts scheme at Petrobras, has exposed how widely corruption permeates Brazilian society, snaring top members of the Workers’ and other political parties, as well as executives of powerful construction companies.

Sao Paulo demonstrator Marisa Bizquolo said she held Rousseff responsible for the Petrobras scandal.

“She must be impeached or resign for ultimately she is responsible for all the corruption and the economic mess this country is in,” said the 62-year-old doctor. “But I am concerned that there is no one who could take her place and run a decent government. We have no leaders.”

Amid the corruption probe and an economic crunch that has seen the once-booming economy teeter on the brink of recession, Rousseff’s popularity ratings have fallen to a level not seen since 1992, when President Fernando Collor de Mello was forced from office after being impeached for corruption. A poll earlier this month showed only 8 percent of those surveyed considered Brazil’s government to be “great” or “good.” By contrast, 71 percent said the government is a “failure.” The Datafolha poll was based on interviews with 3,358 people on Aug. 4 and 5 and had an error margin of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

In a research note, the Eurasia Group political risk consulting firm called Sunday’s protests “an important signpost to monitor.”

“While calls for Rousseff to step down will be the headline of Sunday’s demonstrations … the greater risk for the government would be if massive protests become frequent and if they are followed by movements from organized labor,” the firm said.

In 2013, a wave of nationwide protests took analysts by surprise, with the largest crowds in a generation taking to the streets ahead of the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, a World Cup dry run. Protesters were angry over lavish spending on stadiums and other infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup, which contrasted with the woeful state of Brazil’s public schools and hospitals. Dissatisfaction over poor public services and high taxes continues to simmer here as the country gears up for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.