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article imageBrazil's flash mobs by teens turning political

By GĂ©rard Aziakou (AFP)     Jan 17, 2014 in World

Flash mobs at shopping malls by thrill-seeking underprivileged youths are increasingly taking political overtones in Brazil, raising fears of a replay of last year's nationwide social turmoil.

The so-called "rolezinhos," sudden mall gatherings of hundreds of low-income teens that at times end up in disturbances and store looting, have dominated the national conversation.

Battle lines are being drawn between those who support the right of underprivileged teenagers to congregate in malls located in middle-class areas and store owners who demand protection of their property and maintenance of public order.

On Saturday, a thousand teenagers massed in an eastern Sao Paulo shopping mall and fought security guards and police attempting to deny them access.

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to disperse the youths, according to videos taped by the participants and posted on social media networks.

Three youths were detained.

Sao Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin said Wednesday that while the rolezinhos, which are coordinated via social media, were not illegal, police would intervene in cases of vandalism.

Gilberto Carvalho, secretary general of presidential office, took a softer line, calling for dialogue and alternative recreational spaces for poor youths.

"I don't see repression as the best response because that would only pour oil onto the fire," he warned.

And the youth wing of the ruling leftist Workers' Party expressed support for fresh flash mobs planned for this weekend in Sao Paulo and Rio.

It urged its militants to join the events to "denounce the apartheid imposed on underprivileged youths."

Late Thursday, 200 militants of the Homeless Workers' Movement staged a protest outside a mall in southern Sao Paulo in support of the rolezinhos.

The Shopping Jardim Sul was evacuated and security was beefed up to deny access to the demonstrators.

A similar protest was held outside another mall in the same area.

Non-government groups and social movements have scheduled yet another protest for Saturday in Sao Paulo's JK Iguatemi mall to denounce discrimination against "young blacks, the poor and fans of funk music."

"The rolezinho cannot be seen as a crime but is a cultural phenomenon and as such cannot be treated as a police matter," Sao Paulo state public security chief Fernando Grella Vieira said.

His counterpart in Rio state, Jose Mariano Beltrame, agreed he would not order "any preventive measures."

But Senator Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party, slammed the "unacceptable" gatherings.

"When I go to a shopping mall with my grandchildren, I don't want to be disturbed by youths who protest against God knows what," he told the economic daily Valor.

Singer Jorge Maia sings among dancers at the central station during a flash mob for the National  Sa...
Singer Jorge Maia sings among dancers at the central station during a flash mob for the National Samba Day in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, on December 2, 2013
Yasuyoshi Chiba, AFP/File

Rafael Alcadipani, a professor of organizational studies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, told AFP that the rolezinhos have been around for a while and are generally peaceful.

"Initially, they were conducted in Sao Paulo by followers of Funk Ostentacao," a musical style that extols consumerism, brand name clothes and expensive cars, he said.

"They became an issue when the state decided to use police repression and legal measures to bar underprivileged kids from shopping malls located in middle-class areas."

Alcadipani pointed to police violence during June's nationwide street protests to demand better social services as a catalyst.

Further police overreaction could trigger further mass social unrest, the professor warned.

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