RIO DE JANEIRO – A protest on Thursday against a proposal to privatize the Rio de Janeiro state water company shut down the center of Brazil’s tourist mecca, leading to injuries, arrests, and damage to property.
Demonstrators clashed with police in streets near the seat of the state legislature, where lawmakers were scheduled to debate the bill authorizing the sale of the Cedae utility.
Militants among the protesters shattered windows at banks and set fires.
The unrest spread, forcing authorities to block off main thoroughfares just as employees in downtown office buildings were leaving work.
A trolley service that operates in central Rio was suspended and many area merchants closed their shops.
Protesters, some wearing hoods, hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police checkpoints meant to keep people away from the legislative building.
Cops responded with tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets before deploying an armored vehicle to break up the crowd.
Inside the legislative chamber, some lawmakers donned gasmasks.
Privatizing Cedae is part of a package of austerity measures put forward by the state government after declaring a situation of “financial calamity” last July, just weeks before this city hosted the 2016 Olympics.
Public employees and other opponents have made a practice of mounting protests every time the state legislature is due to consider elements of the austerity plan.
The pressure has moved lawmakers to reject about a third of the steps advocated by the administration of Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezão, who is currently engaged in a legal battle to retain his office after the state electoral court overturned his 2015 election victory for campaign-finance violations.
O Globo newspaper, citing a leaked police document, reported Thursday that Pezão is suspected of having taken some 200,000 reais ($60,000) in bribes in connection with a corruption scheme led by his predecessor, Sergio Cabral, already in jail awaiting trial.