RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians peacefully marched Sunday in over 50 cities around the country to demand President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and to criticize government corruption.
Police estimated 15,000 people marched along the golden sands of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, where they waved Brazilian flags and many openly called for a military coup to dissolve the government.
“I don’t want my country to turn into a Venezuela, we don’t want an authoritarian government!” said Marlon Aymes, 35, helping carry a 20-foot long banner that read in English: “Army, Navy and Air Force. Please Save Us Once Again of Communism.”
“We want the military to dissolve Congress and call new elections, because the level of corruption is too widespread to do anything else,” Aymes added.
The biggest protests were in Sao Paulo, an opposition stronghold where hundreds of thousands gathered on a main avenue, as well as in the capital city Brasilia and Rio. Dozens of cities saw demonstrations gathering together a few thousand people each. According to the website of the Globo TV network, Brazil’s largest, the total number in the streets across Brazil was over 300,000 people, based on local police estimates.
Much protester ire was focused on a kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras, which prosecutors call the biggest corruption scheme ever uncovered in Brazil. At least $800 million was paid in bribes and other funds by the nation’s biggest construction and engineering firms in exchange for inflated Petrobras contracts.
Top executives are already in jail and the attorney general is investigating dozens of top congressmen, along with current and former members of the executive branch, for alleged connections to the scheme that apparently began in 1997 before Rousseff’s party took power in 2003. Rousseff, a former chairwoman of Petrobras’ board, has not been implicated and so far is not being investigated, though top officials from her administration, including two former chiefs of staff, are caught up in the inquiry.
The marches add pressure on Rousseff, whose poll ratings have never been lower and who is facing duel economic and political crises. But the protests are significantly different than anti-government demonstrations in 2013. Those earlier protests cut across political, social and economic lines, and were a widespread expression of frustration with poor public services like health care and transportation, as well as a cry against government corruption.