Monday, December 5, 2016

Brazilians take to streets to protest against corrupt politicians

Demonstrators protest along Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil on December 4, 2016 against corruptio (Photo: AFP)

Brazilians marched across the country Sunday, protesting against corrupt politicians and what they said were attempts by Congress to shut down a huge anti-graft probe.

Dressed overwhelmingly in the green and yellow national colors, thousands of demonstrators filled a beachside avenue in Rio's posh Copacabana, while several thousand gathered outside Congress in the capital Brasilia.

Another protest was due in the country's financial powerhouse Sao Paulo, as well as in scores of smaller cities, according to organizers.

The peaceful crowds expressed support for Operation Car Wash, a probe that has uncovered mass embezzlement by politicians and top executives at state oil company Petrobras and other businesses.

"Car Wash -- protected by the people," read one placard in Rio carried by a man wrapped in the Brazilian flag.

Demonstrators were furious at a vote earlier this week by the lower house of Congress -- where many deputies are themselves suspects in criminal probes -- to weaken a long-planned anti-corruption bill and to intimidate judges and prosecutors.

The vote, which took place while most Brazilians slept during the early hours of Wednesday, prompted prosecutors from the Car Wash case to threaten resignation.

In Rio, protesters lauded Sergio Moro, the judge heading Car Wash cases, chanting: "Moro, fighter for the Brazilian people."

Latin America's biggest country has been in turmoil all year.

Car Wash revelations have already brought down major political and business figures, the economy is in its worst recession for decades, and in August the leftist president Dilma Rousseff was impeached and replaced by center right veteran Michel Temer, triggering nationwide tensions.

The protesters' main villain on Sunday was the powerful Senate speaker, Renan Calheiros, who this week attempted to hold a lightening quick vote to confirm the lower house's controversial corruption bill, but had to retreat. Calheiros also faced a ruling this week by the Supreme Court that he must stand trial on multiple corruption charges.

"Renan out!" and "Lock Renan up!" the crowd chanted in Brasilia, where they performed a mock funeral march with a coffin inscribed "corruption."

In Rio, comedian Marcelo Madureira told the crowd from a sound truck that the street pressure which helped push out the unpopular Rousseff would now bring more change to Brazil.

"Every time we've taken to the streets we've won," he said. "And what is the scalp we want most now? We want the head of Renan Calheiros."

This rage could be bad news for Temer, who came to power with promises of putting a broken Brazil back together.

The uproar around Calheiros is only the latest in a series of scandals engulfing Temer's allies and ministers, reducing his credibility right when he is starting to push through painful economic austerity measures.

"Brazil's politicians, the dominant elites, have robbed the state and set up a huge corrupt scheme of power," said Brasilia demonstrator Marcos Aurelio Matias.

"Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and Temer replacing her is not the solution -- the solution will be when these corrupt politicians step down and go to jail."

Anger at the ruling elite's corruption could even reunite the deeply divided left and right in Brazil, said university teacher Sergio Giacomo, 50, who was protesting in Rio.

"It's the first time where the people are really rallying together. We hope that all the factions and ideological divisions will join in today," he said.

Globo newspaper columnist Gerson Camarotti said that although Temer is not a target at present, he'll be spooked by Brazilians' return to the streets.

"Right now there's a perception that the main target of the demonstrations is the Senate president, Renan Calheiros," Camarotti wrote. "But there's a private recognition that this wave of protests could rapidly reach the president of the republic."


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