HUNDREDS of people in Brazil have clashed with police during a protest against a 10 per cent increase in fares for public transport.
Commuters were caught up in the violence at Rio de Janeiro’s Central Station during rush-hour which saw baton-wielding police fire tear gas and stun grenades in a bid to disperse the crowd, while activists hurled stones and petrol bombs.
The protest began peacefully, with about 800 demonstrators gathering at the Candelaria cathedral, in Rio city centre, before marching to Central Station, the city’s main underground, train and bus interchange.
Some held aloft signs condemning the billions of pounds being spent on hosting the World Cup, and demanding it is used to improve hospitals, schools and infrastructure. But the protest turned nasty on arrival at the station. Some activists jumped turnstiles and vandalised ticketing machines as police tried to prevent them gaining access.
Eyewitnesses described scenes of panic. Shops were vandalised, and several commuters were hurt, they said.
Authorities were forced to close the station, leaving thousands of commuters stranded. Some bystanders fell sick after inhaling tear gas, while others fainted.
“We won’t pay three reais,” chanted the demonstrators. “We want Fifa-standard hospitals too,” they shouted, making reference to the bus fare increase and the high standards demanded by the 2014 football World Cup organisers for their venues.
A cameraman for a local television station was hit in the head by either a stun grenade launched by police or a homemade explosive lobbed by protesters.
Santiago Andrade was taken to a hospital by police and required brain surgery.
Mr Andrade remains in a serious condition and is said to have lost part of an ear.
Police claim the Rio riot involved members of an anarchist group called the Black Block. Thais Jorao, a 22-year-old protester, said that the demonstration was not simply a result of the bus-fare hike.
“If it was a public transport- fare hike when we had good health services and education, you wouldn’t have this many people on the street,” he said. “On top of this you see spending with the World Cup, things that we really don’t need.
“We want health, education, decent public transport.”
The Central Station clash is the latest protest to hit Brazil since last June, when demonstrations broke out after a police crackdown on a group in Sao Paulo that was marching against an increase in public transport fares announced at the end of May there.
That increase was only reversed in the face of nationwide unrest. Protesters then also demanded state action against corruption and a curb on excessive spending ahead of the World Cup, which Brazil will host in June and July.
That fare increase was finally revoked after the federal government agreed to help the state and municipal authorities foot the bill.
Last week, Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes announced the latest increase in transport fares with a single bus fare going up from 2.75 reais (70p) to three reais (80p) from today.