RIO DE JANEIRO – Police on Tuesday entered a church in Brazil’s second-largest city and fired rubber bullets at protesters from inside the sanctuary.
The incident occurred during the latest in a series of protests outside the Rio de Janeiro state assembly against proposed austerity measures that include public employee pay cuts of up to 30 percent.
As lawmakers debated the issue, militarized police charged into a crowd of hundreds of demonstrators, many of them public employees such as teachers, firefighters and prison guards.
The confrontation flared into a pitched battle and some of the police entered the nearby São Jose Church, launching tear gas and firing rubber bullets from the windows.
The Catholic Archdiocese said it will seek “to clarify the events” that led police to use the church as a military position.
“In the current context that characterizes the State of Rio de Janeiro, the important thing is that solutions are sought through dialogue and the efforts of everyone, with our gaze fixed on justice and peace,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao says the aim of the austerity plan is to allow Rio de Janeiro to emerge from the severe imbalances that prompted the declaration of a state of “financial calamity” just weeks before this city hosted the 2016 Olympics in August.
With the world’s eyes on Rio, the Brazilian central government provided the money to meet commitments for the Olympics and the Paralympics in September, but the aid ended once the games were over.
While Pezao’s plan has been unpopular from the start, public rage grew with the arrests last month of two former governors accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in public money.