Brazil: New police crackdown on protests against coup gov't's extreme austerity

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Protesters against the Temer government's extreme austerity plans in Rio on October 17
Protesters against the Temer government's extreme austerity plans in Rio on October 17.

Riot police cracked down and fired tear gas on thousands of protesters in central Rio de Janeiro on October 17 as marches flooded the streets to reject unelected President Michel Temer’s proposed 20-year freeze on public spending, which critics say will spell disaster in the cash-strapped country.

The protests, which also rocked other cities, are the latest in a wave of huge demonstrations led by social movements and unions against the “parliamentary coup” that ousted former President Dilma Rousseff and the austerity policies Temer’s government is swiftly rolling out without a popular mandate.

The 5000-strong march in Rio took aim at the hotly controversial economic reforms Brazilian economists have dubbed “permanent austerity” and “shock therapy.” The Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC 241) would cap public expenditures in line with inflation until 2037.

“Without this money for 20 years, we are not going to be able to survive,” a protester at the march, Ian dos Santos, told AFP. “Schools and public universities aren’t going to have resources. We’re fighting today for our rights as students.” 

The march comes as high school students have also mobilised against PEC 241, occupying dozens of high schools across the country in peaceful protests against the plan that they criticise as an attack on public education.

Riot police responded to the protests with tear gas to disperse demonstrators clogging a main road in central Rio de Janeiro. Several protesters and at least one police officer were reportedly injured in the clashes. Other smaller standoffs between marchers and police reportedly continued over the next hour in nearby streets and squares.

Protests also shook Sao Paulo, where Brasil de Fato reported that 20,000 demonstrators joined the march. 

Temer’s administration has billed PEC 241 as a surefire solution to boost the ailing economy and close the budget deficit. But critics fear the unprecedented neoliberal cuts will undermine constitutional rights and ravage public education, health care, criminal investigations into corruption and other social programs.

The PEC 241 is expected to be passed in Congress imminently after already securing a first-round vote in the lower house.

[Reposted from TeleSUR English.]