RIO DE JANEIRO — More than half a million Brazilians poured into the streets of at least 80 cities Thursday in demonstrations that saw violent clashes and renewed calls for an end to government corruption and demands for better public services.
Riot police battled protesters in at least five cities, with some of the most intense clashes happening in Rio de Janeiro, where an estimated 300,000 demonstrators swarmed into the seaside city's central area.
Young men gathered in clumps in Rio, T-shirts wrapped around their faces, throwing tear gas canisters back at police, some of whom raced after troublemakers on their motorcycles. Thundering booms echoed off stately colonial buildings as rubber bullets and the gas were fired at fleeing crowds.
At least 30 people were injured in Rio, including protesters like Michele Menezes, a wisp of a woman whose youthful face and braces belie her 26 years. She said that she and others took refuge from the violence in an open bar, only to have a police officer toss a tear gas canister inside.
It exploded on top of Menezes, tore through her jeans and dug out two quarter-sized holes on the back of her thighs while also perforating a rash of small holes in her upper arm.
"I was leaving a peaceful protest and it's not the thugs that attack me but the police themselves," said Menezes, removing her wire-rim glasses to wipe her bloodshot eyes.
She later took refuge in a hotel along with about two dozen youths, families and others said they had been repeatedly hit with pepper spray by motorcycle police as they too took refuge inside a bar.
In Brasilia, police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry, outside of which protesters lit a small fire. Other government buildings were attacked around the capital's central esplanade. There, too, police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets in attempts to scatter the crowds.