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Brazil price hikes rescinded

June 20, 2013

Brazil's two largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, have revoked price hikes on public transportation. The decisions meet an important demand of protesters, who are staging the largest demonstrations in 20 years.

Demonstrators gather in the Praca da Se as part of protests against poor public services, police violence and government corruption, in Sao Paulo June 18, 2013. President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday sought to defuse a massive protest movement sweeping Brazil, acknowledging the need for better public services and more responsive governance as demonstrations continued in some cities around the country. Monday's demonstrations were the latest in a flurry of protests over the past two weeks. REUTERS/Alex Almeida (BRAZIL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT POLITICS)
Image: Reuters

Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin said on Wednesday that he hoped the move to rescind the price hikes would create "the tranquility needed to debate issues calmly."

Brazil has been gripped by protests since last week, when people took to the streets of Sao Paulo to oppose an increase in fares for the bus and metro. Social media helped turn the protests into a nationwide movement, with more than 200,000 demonstrators turning out across Brazil on Monday.

Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad said on Wednesday that rescinding the price hikes "will represent a big sacrifice, and we will have to reduce investments in other areas." The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, confirmed that the increase in fare prices would also be revoked there.

Brazil protests turn violent

Although the protests were originally sparked by rising public transit prices, they have since broadened their focus to issues such as corruption and the costly preparations for the 2014 World Cup. Brazil has invested more than $10 billion (7.5 billion euros) on building stadiums for the event. Many of protesters say the money could have been better spent on social services.

"It's not really about the [public transit] price anymore," said Camila Sena, an 18-year-old university student at a protest in Rio de Janeiro's sister city of Niteroi. "People are so disgusted with the system, so fed up that now we're demanding change."

Clashes at Fortaleza

Earlier on Wednesday, police clashed with some 15,000 protesters in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, using gas bombs and pepper spray to keep them at bay. The protesters were trying to reach the Castelao Stadium, where Brazil was playing against Mexico in the Confederations Cup.

Brazil's Justice Ministry had deployed the country's special police force, SENASP, to guard five of the six Confederations Cup venues. SENASP was founded by former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as a federal police force to be deployed in times of unrest.

Current left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff has sought to embrace the protesters and their demands. But so far, Rousseff's words have done little to defuse the situation.

"My government hears the voices clamoring for change, my government is committed to social transformation," Rousseff said. "Those who took to the streets [on Monday] sent a clear message to all of society, above all to political leaders of all levels of government."

slk/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)