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Protests gain steam in Brazil despite recent concessions

Concerns widen beyond bus fares

Protesters blocked access to the Arena Fonte Nova Stadium on Thursday in Salvador, where the Confederations Cup is being played, as tear gas was shot by riot police.

juan barreto/afp/getty images

Protesters blocked access to the Arena Fonte Nova Stadium on Thursday in Salvador, where the Confederations Cup is being played, as tear gas was shot by riot police.

SAO PAULO — Protesters gathered for a new wave of massive demonstrations in Brazil on Thursday, extending the demonstrations that have sent hundreds of thousands into the streets since last week to denounce poor public services and government corruption.

Police cordoned off Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana Stadium, blocking access to protesters during the Spain-Tahiti Confederations Cup game. Only ticket-holders were allowed in.

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The biggest of more than 80 demonstrations was expected in Rio, where thousands of protesters waving flags and carrying banners demanded quality public services and blocked several streets and avenues in a peaceful demonstration.

Thousands of people of all ages, many of them draped in flags or with stripes of Brazil’s national green, yellow, and blue painted onto their cheeks, gathered in front of the majestic Candelaria church downtown.

Several percussion groups pounded out Carnival rhythms and other groups chanted slogans targeting Rio’s governor.

Vendors hawked popcorn, soft drinks, churros, and hot dogs. Men and women who make their living by collecting and selling recyclables darted about, snatching crumpled cans from under the protesters’ feet. Groups of friends snapped pictures of one another striking poses with homemade signs.

Similar scenes were seen in Sao Paulo, Recife, Salvador, and other cities where store and bank windows were boarded up in case protests turned violent.

In the northeastern city of Salvador, police shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse a small crowd of protesters trying to break through a police barrier blocking one of the city’s streets. One woman was injured in her foot.

Elsewhere in Salvador, some 5,000 protesters gathered in Campo Grand Square.

“We pay a lot of money in taxes, for electricity, for services, and we want to know where that money is,” said Italo Santos, a 25-year old student.

Several city leaders have accepted protester demands to revoke an increase in bus and subway fares and hope that antigovernment anger cools.

In Sao Paulo, where demonstrators blocked Paulista Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, organizers said they would turn their demonstration into a party celebrating the lower transit fares. But many believe the protests are no longer just about bus fares and have become a cry for systemic changes in a country that has otherwise seen a decade-long economic boom.

The US Embassy in Brazil was not taking chances: It warned its citizens to stay away from the protests nationwide.

“It’s not really about the price anymore,” said Camila Sena, a university student at a protest Wednesday 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.”

Sena, 18, added that seeing money poured into soccer stadiums for the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup added fuel to people’s anger.

“It’s not that we’re against the World Cup, not at all. It will bring good things for Brazil. It’s just that we’re against the corruption that the World Cup has become an excuse for,” she said.

Mass protests are rare in this 190 million-person country, with demonstrations generally attracting small numbers.

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