Brazil to spend $25bn on public transport

25-06-2013 10:41 AM

Ammon News - (Al Jazeera) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has proposed to set aside $25bn for public transport following days of mass nationwide street protests, in an effort to seize the political initiative.

She also suggested on Monday a referendum on broad "political reform" in response to public anger with substandard public services and rampant official corruption in Brazil, the world's seventh largest economy.

She also warned against any repeat of the violence and vandalism that marred Thursday's protests, which brought 1.2 million people to the streets across the country to demand a better of quality life.

Brazil will allocate "50 billion reais ($25bn) in new investments for urban mobility projects" and "to improve public transport in our country", Rousseff said after crisis talks with protest leaders and regional officials.

She also stressed the need for fiscal responsibility and for boosting investments in health and education as demanded by Brazilians who have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over the past two weeks.

Brazil's unrest initially focused on transport fares before escalating to encompass a variety of complaints against Rousseff's leftist government, including criticism of the huge cost of staging the 2014 World Cup.

The protests coincide with the Confederations Cup football tournament being held in six Brazilian host cities as a dry run for next year's World Cup.

Brazil has spent $15bn to stage the two events.

More protests feared

Rousseff also laid out an agenda to cut taxes on public transportation costs, accelerate investment in hospitals and crack down on political corruption - recurring concerns raised by Brazil's nameless, leaderless protest movement.

"The streets are telling us that the country wants quality public services, more effective measures to combat corruption ... and responsive political representation," she said.

Rousseff made the remarks during a meeting in Brasilia on Monday with state governors, city mayors and protest leaders, including representatives of the Free Pass Movement (MPL), which successfully forced authorities in several cities, including Sao Paulo and Rio, to cancel mass transit fare hikes.

"My government is hearing the democratic voices of the streets which are demanding change," Rousseff said - a repeat of the message she offered on Friday in a speech on national television aimed at calming tensions.

"We know we can find solutions together with the population."

Rousseff reiterated many of the themes she presented last week - making a public transport revamp a priority, using oil royalties to boost education and proposing the recruitment of foreign doctors to bolster health services.

After the meeting, the MPL said it was open to dialogue with the government but pledged to carry on with protests until its demands are met.

The demands for better public services have raised concerns about looser government spending, which Rousseff sought to head off by introducing her agenda with a call for fiscal discipline.

She may struggle to find new tax revenue for her agenda, however, as the economy struggles to gain steam, inflation is eating away at purchasing power, and rising interest rates are making consumer credit more costly.

Death toll rises

In a protest-related development, two women who had taken part in a small protest in the central town of Cristalina died on Monday after being run over by a motorist who ran through a blockade.

That brought to four the death toll in the two-week-old protests, which began on June 11 in Sao Paulo to denounce an increase in public transport fares.

Unrest spread quickly and the vast country of 194 million was engulfed in protest. On Thursday, 1.2 million people hit the streets, including more than 300,000 in Rio de Janeiro.

At the weekend, more than 30 people were hurt in clashes pitting protesters against police when 70,000 marched on Saturday towards the stadium in Belo Horizonte, where Mexico beat Japan 2-0 in a Confederations Cup match.

Recent days have been calmer but social media points to another round of protests focused around the match on Wednesday between Brazil and Uruguay in Belo Horizonte.

On Sunday, the protests were generally smaller and calmer.

The mostly peaceful demonstrations peaked on Thursday, when about a million people took to the streets in cities across the country with occasional instances of violence and vandalism.

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