RIO DE JANEIRO – Police arrested at least six people at violent protests that erupted in Rio de Janeiro against the approval of an increase in the contributions public employees must make to the social security system, this on a day when huge and violent protests were also staged in Brasilia.
The hike in required contributions from 11 percent to 14 percent of a public employee’s pay was approved by the Rio state Legislative Assembly, whose headquarters was protected by a huge security detail deployed to contain the demonstrations in which hundreds of angry citizens took part.
During the protests, clashes erupted between the police and demonstrators, who hurled Molotov cocktails and were responded to with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The protests in Rio came at the same time that massive and violent demonstrations were under way in Brasilia against the government of Michel Temer, disturbances that led to attacks on several ministries.
Police in the capital used tear gas to push back tens of thousands of protesters who marched Wednesday to demand the resignation of Brazil’s beleaguered president, while some demonstrators attacked the entrance to the Agriculture Ministry with Molotov cocktails.
The authorities opted to use force at a moment when the demonstrators were encroaching on a large rectangular lawn near Three Powers Plaza, where the National Congress, the Planalto presidential palace and other major government buildings are located.
The Military Police estimated that between 35,000 and 40,000 people took part in the protest to demand Temer’s resignation, many of whom had arrived on buses from other parts of the country.
Despite the police intervention, the bulk of the crowd remained in the vicinity of Congress and some violent demonstrators began attacking government offices.
EFE observed that vandals shattered windows of the buildings housing the Finance, Tourism, and Mines and Energy ministries.
But the most significant damage occurred at the entrance to the Agriculture Ministry, where the explosion of a Molotov cocktail caused a thick column of black smoke to rise into the sky and forced firefighters to intervene to extinguish the blaze.
All of the government buildings alongside the giant Ministries Esplanade lawn were evacuated due to the violent incidents.
Brazil’s defense minister, Raul Jungmann, said on Wednesday that Temer considered the violence unacceptable and had requested the deployment of federal troops to assist police.
“It was a demonstration that was supposed to be peaceful, but which degenerated into violence, vandalism and aggression against public (buildings) and threats against people,” the minister said.
The unions, which had said they would bus people in from other cities to boost the number of protesters to around 100,000, had initially planned to express their displeasure over austerity measures they say threaten hard-won workers’ rights.
But they are now demanding the resignation of Temer after top officials at Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS handed over documents and recordings to investigators as
part of a plea bargain that appeared to implicate the head of state in crimes including accepting bribes and obstructing justice.
The Supreme Court released the trove of documents and recordings on Friday, a day after launching a formal investigation.
On one of the recordings, Temer appears to encourage JBS Chairman Joesley Batista to continue paying bribes to buy the silence of Eduardo Cunha, a former lower house speaker who was convicted of graft earlier this year and sentenced to a long prison term.
Cunha is one of the highest-profile politicians to be ensnared in the so-called Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation, a far-reaching probe into a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
Batista also told prosecutors that JBS paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Temer and his two most immediate predecessors, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Those under-the-table payments were made, he said, to secure the financing the company needed from the BNDES state development bank to expand its global operations.
Temer’s hold on power appears especially tenuous given that he has lost the support of a powerful legislator within his own Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), that political grouping’s leader in the Senate, Renan Calheiros, who told a radio station on Tuesday that Temer should resign.
The president has thus far resisted all calls for his resignation and said he will prove his innocence in court.