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Anti-Temer strike paralyses major cities in Brazil

Demonstrators protest President Temer's proposed pension reform plans and other measures that will hit them financially.

Anti-Temer

Nationwide strikes, led by Brazilian unions protesting against President Michel Temer's austerity measures, crippled public transport in major cities across the country, while factories, businesses and schools remained closed.

Unions and leftwing organisations called for the general strike on Friday to oppose Temer's plan to slash pension benefits and other austerity reforms.

The strike appeared to be having greatest effect in heavily unionised parts of the economy, including transportation, schools, the post office and some hospital staff.

On the streets, police clashed with demonstrators in several cities, blocking protesters from entering airports and firing tear gas in efforts to free roadways.

Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous city and financial powerhouse, was worst hit by the strikes. 

Police used tear gas to clear highways of protesters but bus services, the metro and trains all stopped working, bringing the city temporarily to a standstill.

"It is going to be the biggest strike in the history of Brazil," said Paulo Pereira da Silva, president of trade union group Forca Sindical.

In Rio de Janeiro, protesters lit fires on a major bridge, disrupting commuter traffic, while police used tear gas to force a small crowd of protesters from outside the main bus station.

However, the city appeared to be less affected, with private businesses such as restaurants, cafes and shops opening normally.

In the capital Brasilia and in Belo Horizonte, another major city, the metro systems were completely closed down. Curitiba, the city where Brazil's huge "Operation Car Wash" anti-corruption investigation is based, was left without bus services.

Temer has said that without severe fiscal discipline and belt tightening, Latin America's biggest economy will not be able to exit a two-year recession.

The most controversial measure is to raise the retirement age to 65 for men and 62 for women, up from 60 and 55 at present.

The government is also pushing for a liberalisation of labour laws and has succeeded in getting Congress to pass a 20-year spending freeze.

The struggle over austerity comes against a backdrop of worsening conditions for ordinary Brazilians.

The country's economy shrank 3.8 percent in 2015 and is expected to have contracted a further 3.5 percent in 2016, the most painful recession in a century.

The miserable economic scenario is dovetailing with the country's worst corruption crisis in history. The "Car Wash" probe has uncovered a massive network of embezzlement and bribery at the heart of Brazil's economic and political elite.

Eight of Temer's ministers are under investigation and the president himself has been accused of chairing a meeting where his PMDB party negotiated a $40m bribe from the Odebrecht engineering conglomerate. Temer and his allies deny any wrongdoing.

"Temer does not even want to negotiate," said Vagner Freitas, national president of the Central Workers Union (CUT), Brazil's biggest labour confederation, said in a statement.

"He just wants to meet the demands of the businessmen who financed the coup precisely to end social security and legalise the exploitation of workers."

Temer's spokesperson Marcio de Freitas rejected the union's criticism, saying the government was working to undo the economic damage wrought under the Workers Party government, which had the backing of the CUT.

"The inheritance of that was 13 million unemployed," he said. "The government is carrying out reforms to change this situation, to create jobs and economic growth." 


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