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Protesters keep up pressure in Brazil

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

SAO PAULO — Thousands of demonstraters flooded a square in Brazil's economic hub, Sao Paulo, on Tuesday evening for the latest in a historic wave of protests against the shoddy state of public transit, schools and other public services in this booming South American giant.

Sparked this month by a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares and organized via social media, the nationwide protests are giving voice to growing discontent over the gap between Brazil's high tax burden and the low quality of public infrastructure, echoing similar mobilizations in Turkey, Greece and other parts of the globe where weariness with governments has exploded in the streets.

An estimated 50,000 people marched on Sao Paulo's City Hall building, where a small radical group clashed with police as they attempted to force their way in and set a vehicle and other objects alight. Another protest sprang up in the working class Rio de Janeiro suburb of Sao Goncalo.

After an estimated turnout of 240,000 people in 10 cities Monday, the protests are turning into the most significant in Brazil since the end of the country's 1964-85 military dictatorship, when crowds rallied to demand the return of democracy.

Bruno Barp, a 23-year-old law student at the demonstration in Sao Paulo, said he had high hopes for the growing movement.

“The protests are gaining force each day, there is a tremendous energy that cannot be ignored,” Barp said as demonstrators poured into the central plaza, which was aflutter with banners and echoing with chanted slogans. “All Brazilians are fed up with the government and the poor services we receive.”

Although Brazilian demonstrations in recent years generally had tended to attract small numbers of politicized participants, the latest mobilizations have united huge crowds around a central lament: The government provides woeful public sector even as the economy is modernizing and growing.

The Brazilian Tax Planning Institute think tank found the country's tax burden in 2011 stood at 36 percent of gross domestic product, ranking it 12th among the 30 countries with the world's highest tax burdens.

Yet public services such as schools are in sorry shape. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found in a 2009 educational survey that literacy and math skills of Brazilian 15-year-olds ranked 53rd out of 65 countries.

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