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By Paulo Prada
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - A Brazilian television cameraman was pronounced brain dead by surgeons at a Rio de Janeiro hospital Monday, four days after a firework lit by a protester struck him in the head.
His death, the first in Brazil this year due to protests that threaten to disrupt the World Cup soccer tournament beginning in June, underscores the unruliness and violence that have come to characterize the small, but continued rallies that began with a series of mass demonstrations last year.
Santiago Ilídio Andrade, a 49-year-old cameraman for the Bandeirantes television network, was filming a protest over a hike in Rio’s bus fares last Thursday when a protestor, as yet unidentified, lit a large bottle rocket that flew up from the ground and struck him.
Photographs and video of the firework’s deadly, albeit accidental, trajectory have filled the front pages of newspapers and prime time news coverage in the days since. The incident is prompting renewed discussion about the protests, the sometimes oppressive police tactics to contain them and whether violence so far could lead to worsening unrest.
While Andrade was treated for blood loss and cranial injuries at a Rio hospital, the police have been searching for the protester, who is believed to be affiliated with a loose collective of young anti-government militants.
Over the weekend, they arrested a young man who in photographs was seen handing the firework to the protester who ignited it. The man, according to local media reports, said he did not know the other protestor, but recognized him from previous demonstrations.
With World Cup games scheduled in Rio and eleven other cities, and a presidential election shortly afterward, Brazil’s government is closely watching the protests and the disruption they could cause were they to grow larger or more violent.
People familiar with the government’s tactics say Brazilian security forces are intercepting emails and combing social networks used by those suspected of inciting violence at the protests.. On Monday, President Dilma Rousseff ordered Brazil’s federal police force to help Rio authorities investigate the Andrade episode.
In a statement, Rousseff said, “We cannot allow democratic protests to be discredited by those who have no respect for human lives.”
Last year, more than a million people took to the streets in mass demonstrations sparked by a previous hike in public transport fares. At the time, demonstrators successfully used the Confederations Cup, a warmup to this year’s tournament, as a backdrop from which to protest dissatisfaction with a slowing economy, rising prices, corruption and poor public services.
Though the protests continued, they have grown smaller in scale. Mainstream Brazilians, the critical mass that gave heft to the rallies last year, quickly moved to the sidelines once small, but violent militants began using the events to destroy property, taunt police and otherwise destabilize the protests.
At least six Brazilians died during the unrest in 2013. (Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Marguerita Choy)