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article imageBrazil retailers demand govt support on flash mobs

By AFP     Jan 20, 2014 in Business

Brazilian retailers on Monday said they were seeking support from President Dilma Rousseff after several shopping malls were closed to stop weekend flash mobs.

Scores of youths, brought together via social media, gathered at upscale malls in several major cities, including Rio and business hub Sao Paulo.

Fearing violence, authorities promptly closed some of the malls -- including the commercial center in Rio's uber-swanky Leblon district -- sparking protests and claims of discrimination.

But Monday, Brazilian retailer association Alshop voiced concerns over the lost business that resulted.

"We can confirm we have called on the presidential office for help in this matter," an Alshop spokeswoman told AFP.

A number of flash mobs -- dubbed rolezinhos in Brazil -- have descended on retail centers in recent days.

Many of the youths involved are low-income black teens. In some cases, the gatherings have degenerated into disturbances and store looting.

Security was beefed up ahead of one planned flash mob on Saturday at Sao Paulo's JK Iguatemi mall before management decided to close the center entirely.

Similarly, Shopping Leblon was closed on Sunday.

But the closures only served to heighten tensions further, with some demonstrators accusing malls of "denying entry to black and poor people."

Retailers for their part were unhappy at losing weekend trade and decided to take their displeasure to Rousseff's office.

Alshop said in a statement that, even when the shopping centers remain open but add security, it “believes this puts clients off and, as a consequence, prejudices sales."

And it complained the flash mobs, which have been going on since late 2013, were "prejudicing consumers, officials and retailers alike."

JK IGuatemi management said it decided to close the mall temporarily "to guarantee the security of its clients, store owners and collaborators."

A week ago, the mall secured a court injunction to block a rolezinho.

Joselicino Junias, from anti-racism organization Circulo Palmarino, said Saturday the flash mobs aim to challenge the "fundamentally racist, segregationist nature" of Brazilian society.

However, retailers in city center malls, which generally attract well-heeled consumers, reject any suggestion of discrimination or racial profiling against black or poor people.

More than half of Brazil's 200 million people are of African descent, the world's second largest black population after that of Nigeria.

Most Afro-Brazilians are descended from the millions of Africans brought here during colonial-era slavery that ended nationwide only in 1888.

Over a century on, Afro-Brazilians complain of widespread racial discrimination and disproportionate poverty.

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