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article imageBrazil strike disrupts transport ahead of Copa America

By Rosa SULLEIRO (AFP)     Jun 14, 2019 in World

A nationwide strike disrupted public transport in Brazil on Friday as thousands of protesters took to the streets across the country to march against President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform, ahead of the Copa America opener.

The latest in a series of mass demonstrations against Bolsonaro since he took office in January comes as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.

Some metro lines in Sao Paulo were paralyzed ahead of the game at the city's Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters were deployed as part of increased security for the competition.

Demonstrators give first aid to a girl injured during clashes with riot police in Rio de Janeiro
Demonstrators give first aid to a girl injured during clashes with riot police in Rio de Janeiro
MAURO PIMENTEL, AFP

One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers joined the strike.

More than 100 cities have been affected by the stoppage, with nearly 200 recording demonstrations, the G1 news site reported.

Riot police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters in Rio de Janeiro, where several thousand had gathered downtown to demonstrate.

Police arrested 14 people in Sao Paulo state, including 10 in the capital where thousands protested.

University students and professors joined workers on the streets in protest against the government's proposed education funding cuts.

The number of protesters appeared to be lower than in other recent demonstrations against Bolsonaro, possibly due in part to the public transport disruptions.

A Brazilian riot police officer takes cover after firing rubber bullets at demostrators during clash...
A Brazilian riot police officer takes cover after firing rubber bullets at demostrators during clashes in Rio de Janeiro
MAURO PIMENTEL, AFP

"The government is passing horrible laws," Zacarias Gama, 71, told AFP at the Rio protest.

"They are trying to do something similar here to what Pinochet did in Chile."

Vania Santos told AFP: "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality."

In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.

- Pension savings cut -

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has seen a tumultuous start to his term in office as he struggles...
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has seen a tumultuous start to his term in office as he struggles to push his signature pension reform through a hostile Congress and prevent the economy from sliding back into recession
EVARISTO SA, AFP

Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress.

But the changes, including the introduction of a retirement age, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats.

A street vendor and his customers protect themselves from tear gas and rubber bullets fired by the r...
A street vendor and his customers protect themselves from tear gas and rubber bullets fired by the riot police during clashes with protesters in Rio de Janeiro
MAURO PIMENTEL, AFP

A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders.

Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.

Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly.

"The ball is with the legislature," Bolsonaro told reporters Friday.

But Guedes criticized the latest changes to the bill, saying lawmakers had shown "there was no commitment to future generations".

"The commitment to the public servants of the legislature appears greater," he was quoted by G1 as saying.

A view of closed metro station in Sao Paulo  Brazil  during a national strike called by trade unions...
A view of closed metro station in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during a national strike called by trade unions over Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reforms
Miguel SCHINCARIOL, AFP

Friday's strike and protests cap a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession.

More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job.

Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence.

"Bank workers on STRIKE" reads the sign on a window outside a closed Rio de Janeiro bank
"Bank workers on STRIKE" reads the sign on a window outside a closed Rio de Janeiro bank
MAURO PIMENTEL, AFP

Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice.

That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.

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