Violence flares in Brazil over transit fares

Demonstrators protest along downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 13, 2013, against a recent rise in public bus and subway fare from 3 to 3.20 reais (US$1.50). Photo: AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA
Sao Paulo - Hundreds of people were detained across Brazil overnight Friday in fresh clashes between police and youths protesting an increase in mass transit fares on the eve of the Confederations Cup.
 
The worst violence was in Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic capital and most populous city, where 232 people were detained following running battles in the city center, a police spokesman said. Most of those held were later released.
 
Twelve police were hurt during the unrest, he added, while press reports said more than 100 people were injured in the police crackdown.
 
The Sao Paulo protests, which began last week, have been spearheaded by the Free Pass Movement, which is opposed to a recent increase in bus, metro and train ticket prices from $1.50 to $1.60 and wants free transport for students.
 
The group has called for another mass demonstration on Monday.
 
In Rio, one of the six host cities for the Confederations Cup, which kicks off on Saturday, around 20 people were detained late Thursday following a demonstration by 2,000 people, mainly students, to demand lower bus fares.
 
Smaller protests over the same issue were also held in Porto Alegre, where 23 people were detained and seven hurt, Curitiba, Natal and Maceio.
 
In the central city of Goiania, the local transport company suspended the fare hike in response to protests.
 
In Sao Paulo, home to 11 million people, police stepped up efforts overnight to prevent a repetition of widespread of acts of vandalism and lawlessness that accompanied earlier protests.
 
But small groups of vandals managed to set fire to garbage in the streets, while others smashed store windows or spray painted buses.
 
Under orders to prevent the demonstrators from reaching Sao Paulo's main Avenida Paulista, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used their batons, injuring several people, including reporters.
 
Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad conceded that, based on television pictures of the violence, the police may have used excessive violence.
 
But he and Sao Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin ruled out a rollback of the fare hikes, saying they were as low as possible and "below inflation."
 
Thursday's Sao Paulo demonstration began with an estimated 5,000 youths - many of them students waving red flags of the Trotskyist Unified Socialist Workers' Party (PSTU) and chanting leftist slogans - massed outside the Baroque-style Municipal Theater near City Hall.
 
Some banners read "We will not tolerate being exploited" or "Our rights have a price."
 
"We want the fare increases to be scrapped and a free pass for students," 23-year-old Alina Bailo of the Union of Rebel Youth said.
 
The nationwide protests come as Brazil prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists for the Fifa Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup.

AFP

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