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Protests seek to oust Rousseff

Published 13/04/2015

Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans as they march in Sao Paulo with a giant flag bearing the word 'impeachment' (AP)
Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans as they march in Sao Paulo with a giant flag bearing the word 'impeachment' (AP)

Nationwide demonstrations calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff have swept Brazil for the second day in less than a month.

Turnout at the latest protests appeared down, however, prompting questions about the future of the movement.

A poll published over the weekend suggested the majority of Brazilians supported opening impeachment proceedings against Ms Rousseff, whose second term in office has been buffeted by a corruption scandal at the nation's largest company, oil giant Petrobras, as well as a stalled economy, a sliding currency and political infighting.

Only 13% of survey respondents evaluated her administration positively.

The protests, in cities from Belem, in the northern Amazonian rainforest region, to Curitiba in the south, were organised mostly via social media by an assortment of groups. Most were calling for Ms Rousseff's impeachment, but other demands ranged from urging looser gun control laws to a military coup.

While last month's protests drew substantial crowds in several large cities, yesterday's turnout was lacklustre.

In Rio, several thousand people marched along the golden sands of Copacabana beach, many dressed in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag. The March 15 protest, by contrast, drew tens of thousands.

In the opposition stronghold of Sao Paulo, about 100,000 people marched on the city's main thoroughfare, according to an estimate by the respected Datafolha polling agency. The crowd was less than half the size of last month's demonstration there, when more than 200,000 people turned out, making it the biggest demonstration in Sao Paulo since 1984 rallies demanding the end of the military dictatorship.

"I was on the avenue on March 15 and without a doubt, today's demonstration was much smaller," said Antonio Guglielmi, a 61-year-old sales representative for a building materials company, vowing: "I will keep coming back to demonstrations like this one - big or small - because it is the best way for us to make our voices heard and demand an end to the Dilma government and the PT and end to corruption.

"The country cannot go on like this."

Still, many analysts predict that lower-turnout Sunday protests could spell the end of the movement.

"I do not think we will see the protest movement grow in size and frequency," said Carlos Lopes, a political risk analyst at Brasilia office of the Insituto Analise consultancy.

Given yesterday's smaller turnout, "people will be less inclined take part in future demonstrations and the movement towards large-scale rallies will begin to fizzle out".

One of the heads of the Movimento Brasil Livre, or Free Brazil Movement, which helped organise the demonstrations rebuffed the suggestion that turnout was down, stressing that many more cities and towns staged protests than last month.

A survey released on Saturday by the Folha de S Paulo daily found that 63% of Brazilians surveyed supported impeachment proceedings against Ms Rousseff, while 33% opposed them.

The same poll, by Datafolha, showed Ms Rousseff's approval ratings holding steady, with 13% of respondents giving her a great or good rating while 60% of respondents evaluated her performance as bad or terrible.

The survey of 2,834 people in 171 districts was conducted on Thursday and Friday.

Much of the protesters' ire focused on the Petrobras scandal. Prosecutors say at least 800 million dollars (£548m) was paid in bribes and other funds by construction and engineering firms in exchange for inflated Petrobras contracts.

Ms Rousseff, a former chairwoman of Petrobras' board, has not been implicated and so far is not being investigated, though two of her former chiefs of staff are among the dozens of officials caught up in the inquiry.

One president, Fernando Collor de Mello, has been impeached since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985, but many legal experts have said that Ms Rousseff could be impeached only if evidence emerged directly linking her to crimes committed during her second term, which began in January.

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