World News

Brazil anti-government protesters occupy Congress, call for coup

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Demonstrators calling for a military coup occupied Brazil’s lower house of Congress on Wednesday, during a day of protests that saw public servants in Rio de Janeiro clash with police during an anti-austerity protest.

Riot police take position during a protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in front of the State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By early evening, the protesters in Congress, numbering about 60 in total, had been disbanded and arrested by federal police, roughly three hours after they took over the chamber.

The group busted a glass door to gain access to the lower house and clashed violently with legislative guards. Many of the protesters called for a military coup to overturn Brazil’s centre-right government.

The protesters blasted what they said was endemic government corruption and at one point paused to sing the national anthem of the South American nation, which was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

For the past two years an investigation into a long-running and massive political kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras has transfixed Brazil.

Top executives of construction firms have been jailed, over 60 politicians are under investigation, and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is facing two separate corruption trials related to the case.

In Rio de Janeiro, state legislators were beginning to debate an austerity package when protests began outside. Police clashed with the demonstrators, who rallied against deep cuts to state spending, and rained down tear gas.

Rio, which just three months ago hosted the Summer Olympics, is Brazil’s second most indebted state. For months the salaries of police officers, public servants and others connected to the state have been paid late if at all.

Just before the Olympic Games, the state government declared a “financial emergency” to free funds from the federal government to assure that police were paid and hospitals stayed open while the world’s eyes were on the city.

But hospital workers now say that public health is in disarray, with vital and basic supplies running out in a system that was already strained, and educators say schools are in a similarly dire situation.

The Rio demonstration was far smaller than the mass protests that have rocked Brazil in recent years as a near-decade long economic boom fizzled. A middle class feeling the crunch has repeatedly taken to the streets across the nation since 2013 to express deep discontent.

Reporting by Paulo Prada, Anthony Boadle and Brad Brooks; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Leslie Adler