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Protests against Sao Paulo bus fare hike turn violent

June 13, 2013|By Vincent Bevins
  • Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators protesting increases in public transit fares in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators protesting… (Sebastiao Moreira / European…)

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Police used tear gas and rubber bullets Thursday night to disperse thousands of protesters in Sao Paulo who had been chanting, "The love is over -- Turkey is right here" before fleeing the law enforcement onslaught.

At least 55 people were injured and 60 arrested during the fourth  demonstration in a week. The protests were originally aimed at a hike in the city's bus fares, but diverse groups came together after serious clashes with police Tuesday.

In Thursday's violence, two journalists from Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil's highest-circulation newspaper, were struck in the face with rubber bullets, the paper reported. Two other journalists were imprisoned and then released. Social networks in Brazil were abuzz with denunciations of police excess.

PHOTOS: Brazilians protest rising public transport costs

The crowd that formed earlier Thursday outside the Municipal Theater in South America's largest city drew together a combination of students, citizens protesting police violence, representatives from various left-leaning parties and supporters of the original protest, which called for better and more equitable access to public transportation.

The original slogan of the "Free Pass Movement" was "If the fare doesn't come down, the city will be stopped." But when a demonstration  Tuesday was marred by injuries and vandalism, both of Sao Paulo's major newspapers -- which are right-of-center -- called for police to crack down.

Law enforcement authorities announced they would do just that.

Many of the protesters marching on the city's main streets were shocked by the speed and force of Thursday's police operation.

"The police will say there were 'confrontations' between protesters and them today," said Eduardo Rosa, a 45-year-old mail carrier who opposes the fare increase.  "But a 'confrontation' is when both sides choose it and the conflict is equal. This isn't a 'confrontation,' it's a massacre."

Sao Paulo is plagued by grindingly slow traffic and poor public transportation, so its low-income residents often face long, dreary  commutes. Bus fare was recently raised from about $1.40 to about $1.50. Minimum wage is just over $350 a month.

"The transportation system is horrible, and the price is going up and up without improving," said Hector Cortez, a 23-year-old computer programmer, before Thursday's march began.

At first, the crowd moved peacefully through the streets, with some waving Turkish flags in recognition of the protests there. A small minority wore masks. Workers and residents cheered from windows; others complained of traffic jams caused by the protest.

When the group neared Roosevelt Square, police began to fire tear gas.

As the crowd fragmented and fled, broken windows, smoke, graffiti and acrid gas were left in its wake.

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