BRASILIA, Nov 30 — Brazilian riot police fought an angry crowd of demonstrators outside Congress today as lawmakers prepared to vote on austerity measures freezing government spending for 20 years.
The violent scenes in the capital Brasilia underlined tensions in Latin America’s biggest economy as the center-right government of President Michel Temer attempts to embark on major cutbacks.
Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades into a crowd of thousands. Squads of officers occasionally beat and kicked isolated protesters.
Some demonstrators hurled objects at police and turned over a car. Windows were broken at several ministries.
Thick clouds of tear gas eventually drove away the crowd — estimated by police to reach 10,000 people — but small groups continued to confront the security forces, throwing back tear gas canisters and attempting to block an avenue.
The disturbances occurred as the Senate was set to hold the first of two votes on Temer’s proposed long-term spending freeze. It was already approved by the lower house.
Even more controversial measures, including pension reform, are planned to follow. Temer says action is needed to save Brazil, deep in its worst recession for decades, from bankruptcy.
The tensions also came amid national mourning after a plane crash yesterday in Colombia killed much of the southern Brazilian Chapecoense football team and 20 Brazilian journalists, among the more than 70 people who perished.
Flags outside Congress were at half-mast and earlier Temer declared three days of mourning.
In the lower house of Congress, deputies were preparing to vote on a controversial anti-corruption law. The bill would toughen penalties for illegal campaign funds, a major problem in Brazil.
However, there was uproar last week when deputies tried to change the text to include what would have amounted to an amnesty for any politicians who had accepted illegal campaign funds up until now. In the face of mounting public pressure, Temer announced that he would veto such a bill.
Among the demonstrators was 21-year-old Gabriel Siqueira, who said that austerity would mean stifling his education and hopes for building a future.
“I am an economics student. I have grants but the grants are always being cut. I want to educate myself, to do a master’s, but it gets harder and harder to study when they vote for these kind of things,” he told AFP outside Congress.
“I hope the senators stop to think a bit about what’s happening here before they press the button.”
Temer came to power this year after the bruising impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff. Temer has said he has a mandate to move Brazil away from Rousseff’s leftist policies, but opponents accuse him of lacking legitimacy.
Latest unemployment figures yesterday showed about 12 million people are out of work, or 11.8 per cent.
The economy shrank 3.8 per cent in 2015 and market estimates are pointing to another slip of almost 3.5 per cent in 2016, with weak growth returning next year. — AFP