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Brazil government rolls back transit hike

Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo agree to suspend increase in public-transport fares, but protesters say they "want more".

Last updated: 21 Mar 2014 22:40
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Brazilian officials in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have announced the reversal of the 10-cent increase in public transit fares, which prompted widespread protests across the South American nation.

The protests have evolved into communal outcries that have moved well beyond the original demand that public transportation fares be lowered.

Eduardo Paes, Rio mayor; Fernando Haddad, Sao Paulo mayor; and Geraldo Alckmin, Sao Paulo state governor, said the fare increase had been reversed.

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Sao Paulo, said there was little reaction on the streets to the reversal decision but social media, which has propelled the protest movement, was abuzz. 

"A lot of the movement participants say [on social media] that its a good start, but not quite enough. They want free public transport, especially in Sao Paulo," he said. 

He said many protesters have told him that the protests now go beyond the transit issue and aim for better public services in the country.

Amid the transit-hike rollback, protests continued in Rio's sister city Niteroi and clashes occurred in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, where police fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at demonstrators before a Confederations Cup football game.

Police deployed

Earlier on Wednesday, Brazil's government deployed special federal police to the five of the six cities where the Confederations Cup football tournament is being played to protect the competition's venues.

The government's reaction is notable given that the Confederations Cup is seen as a dry run for the World Cup next year.

The National Force, composed of police and firefighters from different states that are called up for duty on special occasions, is a "conciliatory, mediating" force, "not repressive," the Justice Ministry said.

Al Jazeera's Adam Raney reports on the roots of the protest movement

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of several Brazilian cities for the second night of largely peaceful protests over poor public services, high prices and corruption.

In Sao Paulo, an estimated 50,000 people participated in the demonstration lasting hours and concentrated along Avenida Paulista in the centre of the city of 11 million, police said.

A vehicle belonging to a television station was set on fire in front of Sao Paulo mayor's office. Windows of the building had earlier been smashed by rioters, and police withdrew into the building.

Thousands of people also demonstrated in Sao Goncalo near Rio, as well as in Belo Horizonte, amid a large police presence.

Protests a day earlier saw an estimated 200,000 people in the streets across the country, around half of them in Rio.

The unrest first broke out in Sao Paulo last week against an increase in public-transport prices.

President's acknowledgment

The target of the protests quickly widened to include corruption and excessive government spending on hosting football tournaments instead of on health, education and other public services.

The protests have continued to escalate despite President Dilma Rousseff acknowledging the need for better public services and more responsive governance.

"The massive size of yesterday's protests prove the energy of our democracy, the force of the voice of the street and the civility of our population,'' she said on Tuesday.

"My government hears the voices clamouring for change, my government is committed to social transformation," she said.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Brazilian authorities on Tuesday to exercise restraint in dealing with the protests and called on demonstrators not to resort to violence in pursuit of their demands.

The UN body said it welcomed the statement by Rousseff that peaceful demonstrations were legitimate.

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