Brazil's cabinet is meeting in emergency session today as about one million Brazilains took to the streets to protest against everything from hikes in public transportation fees to the $26 billion the government is spending on two major sporting events.
Undeterred by the reversal of transport fare hikes that sparked the protests, and promises of better public services, demonstrators marched around two international soccer matches and in locales as diverse as the Amazon capital of Manaus and the prosperous southern city of Florianopolis.
While the protests remained mostly peaceful, the growing number of participants led to occasional outbursts of violence and vandalism in some cities. In central Rio de Janeiro, where 300,000 people marched, police afterwards chased looters and dispersed people crowding into surrounding areas.
"Twenty cents was just the start," read signs held by many converging along the Avenida Paulista, the broad avenue in central São Paulo, referring to the bus fare reductions. Police there said 110,000 people lined the avenue.
In the capital, Brasilia, tens of thousands of protesters marched around the landmark modernist buildings that house Congress and the Supreme Court and briefly set fire to the outside of the Foreign Ministry. Police said about 80 of the protesters, some with homemade explosives, made it into the ministry building before they were repelled.
In Ribeirão Preto, near São Paulo, a 20-year-old demonstrator died after a driver plowed a jeep into a crowd. Brazilian media reported hundreds of minor injuries across the country, including a Rio television reporter who recounted being hit by a rubber bullet fired by police.
The swelling tide of protests prompted President Dilma Rousseff to cancel a trip next week to Japan, her office said. The president, whose administration was caught off-guard by the rapid growth of the demonstrations, also planned an emergency meeting for Friday, a government source said.
The targets of the protests, now in their second week, have broadened to include high taxes, inflation, corruption and poor public services ranging from hospitals and schools to roads and police forces.
With an international soccer tournament as a backdrop, demonstrators are also denouncing the more than $26 billion of public money that will be spent on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, two events meant to showcase a modern, developed Brazil.
"This is fair play," read a banner among the hordes in Brasilia, a twist on the slogan used to promote sportsmanship by FIFA, world soccer's governing body.
Brazil has a fast growing economy that is leaving a lot of people behind due to crony capitalism and corruption. The tax increases and hikes in fees are killing the Middle Class, with inflation already eating away at their lifestyle. Protests appear to be about the only way they have of letting the government know how unhappy they are.
Expect the demonstrations to get bigger, and perhaps more violent as fringe groups attempt to use the protests for their own purposes.