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Protesters mass in Brasilia against Temer, austerity

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Demonstrators rally during the protest “Occupy Brasilia” against the labor and social security reforms and the government of President Michel Temer in Brasilia, on May 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Andressa Anholete

At least 25,000 people massed in Brasilia on Wednesday to demand new elections and an end to austerity reforms in a protest fueled by anger over a corruption scandal swirling around President Michel Temer.

Organized by leftist groups and trade unions, the protesters poured into the center of Brazil’s capital.

Brazil’s left is sniffing an opportunity for revenge just over a year since Temer took over from Workers’ Party president Dilma Rousseff after she was impeached for illegally manipulating government accounts.

Temer, from the center-right PMDB party, is reeling from a probe into his alleged corruption. The future of his market-friendly reforms package — especially cuts in the country’s generous but unaffordable pension system — is unclear.

“It’s the end of this putchist government. That’s why the people have taken to the streets,” said Francisca Gomes, 59, who came from Sao Paulo for the protest and carried a funeral ribbon carrying the image of the president and the words: “RIP Temer.”

Brasilia’s security service said that 500 buses had converged on the capital, with some 25,000 protesters. The protesters were still gathering, with a march planned to start in the early afternoon.

“In a democracy, no government can resist when the people take to the streets,” said Dorival Pereira, 60, who traveled 18 hours from Mato Grosso do Sul.

Like many demonstrators, she wore a T-shirt with the slogan “Elections now!”

– End of Temer? –
Temer says the austerity reforms are already working and that more measures, especially pension reform, are needed. Latin America’s biggest economy has been stuck in deep recession for two years and is just showing the first signs of returning to growth, although unemployment is at nearly 14 percent.

However, Temer has been fighting for his political life since last week after allegations that he attempted to pay hush money to a jailed politician and was involved in bribery.

The scandal comes after a landslide of other corruption allegations against much of his government and Congress in a huge probe known as “Operation Car Wash.”

For now, the president is trying to shore up his congressional alliance to resist calls for his impeachment. He has said he did nothing wrong and will not resign.

For many Brazilians, the revelations about Temer’s alleged crimes dovetail with existing anger about the austerity reforms.

Previous demonstrations have sparked violent clashes with riot police. In Brasilia, protesters have even succeeded on several occasions to break past police cordons and smash the windows of government buildings.

Tensions already flared up on Tuesday in the Senate, where the economic affairs committee was reviewing a report on a reform of labor laws. Opposing senators yelled at each other, some chanting “Temer out, Temer out.”

And in an unrelated case that underlined the far-reaching impact of Brazil’s ongoing anti-graft operation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced one of the country’s most infamously corrupt and seemingly untouchable politicians to nearly eight years in prison.

Paulo Maluf, an 85-year-old ally of Temer, was convicted of money laundering and has been stripped of his mandate as a deputy in Congress. He has been on Interpol’s list for alleged money laundering in New York.

Also on Tuesday, police said they had arrested a Temer adviser and two ex-governors over alleged fraud linked to a stadium used in the 2014 football World Cup in Brasilia.

The suspects allegedly overbilled by 900 million Brazilian reais (about $380 million at the time) on a 600-million-reais project to build the Mane Garrincha stadium.

Ironically, Wednesday’s protesters began to gather for the day outside the same stadium.

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