Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

Tens of thousands protest in Brazil to say, 'Dilma must go'

Anger at President Dilma Rousseff over corruption, budget cuts swells in third major protest of 2015

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered across Brazil on Sunday to call for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, whom they blame for a vast corruption scandal and the economy's worst slump in a quarter century.

Less than a year into her tumultuous second term, the left-wing Workers' Party president's support has dwindled to single digits in recent polls, while two in three support calls for her impeachment.

"We hear all about budget cuts, but so far it's only hurting people like me," said Francisco Mosack, a retired metalworker from the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Capao Redondo, who complained that his electric bill had doubled in a year.

Support for the protest movement remains widespread as rising unemployment and inflation presage the worst economic downturn since at least 1990. Government austerity efforts meant to keep the country's investment-grade credit rating have also turned off Rousseff's supporters and met resistance from lawmakers.

Sunday's protests were the third major demonstration of the year against Rousseff. Protesters swarmed to midday marches on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach and in front of Congress in the capital Brasilia, but a more tepid buildup on social media suggested the nationwide movement may not attract the millions of marchers touted by independent organizers in past days.

Political analysts here have said that Sunday's turnout could help determine the protest movement's future, with massive crowds ratcheting up the pressure on the government. Sunday's lower turnout, however, looked likely give Rousseff some breathing room.

A Datafolha survey this month showed impeachment has the most support among the poorest and least educated Brazilians, who overwhelmingly backed Rousseff in her narrow re-election victory last October.

Sensing weakness, congressional leaders have sabotaged much of the president's legislative agenda. The leader of the lower house of Congress, who is responsible for moving ahead with an impeachment vote, broke entirely with her government last month.

The president had measured success this week consolidating support among restive Senate leaders for a pro-business agenda. But their alliance remains fragile.

Further muddying the waters, a bribery and money-laundering investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras has spilled into the political realm as the prosecutor-general readies charges against sitting politicians.

Operation "Car Wash," which began more than a year ago as an investigation into bribes-for-contracts scheme at Petrobras, has exposed how widely corruption permeates Brazilian society, snaring top members of the Workers' and other political parties, as well as executives of powerful construction companies.

No evidence has emerged incriminating Rousseff, but many protesters consider her responsible for wrongdoing at Petrobras, where she was chairwoman from 2003 to 2010.

In 2013, a wave of nationwide protests took analysts by surprise, with the largest crowds in a generation taking to the streets ahead of the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, a World Cup dry run.

Protesters were angry over lavish spending on stadiums and other infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup, which contrasted with the woeful state of Brazil's public schools and hospitals. Dissatisfaction over poor public services and high taxes continues as the country gears up for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A soccer powerhouse, Brazil suffered a humiliating defeat in its World Cup match against Germany, falling 7 to 1 to the team that would bring home the title. 

Wire services


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