November 29, 2016 / 9:37 PM / 2 years ago

Violent protests erupt outside Brazil Congress over austerity

A woman is pictured with a phrase on her face that reads "Out Temer", referring to Brazil's President Michel Temer, during a protest against a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 55, that limits public spending, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Youths protesting against austerity measures aimed at restoring fiscal discipline in Brazil burned cars and smashed windows of government buildings with rocks on Tuesday as lawmakers debated a 20-year cap on federal spending.

The angry outburst pointed to growing social unrest with the government’s austerity drive in the midst of Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s, which has left 12 million people out of work.

Police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse a crowd they estimated at 10,000 demonstrators, which converged on Congress on the ministry-lined central esplanade of Brasilia.

Three cars were set on fire and walls were sprayed with graffiti calling for the ouster of President Michel Temer, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Temer, through a spokesman, condemned the vandalism and violence as an undemocratic form of pressure on Congress.

The demonstrations brought together students, landless peasants, labour union activists and members of the Workers Party carrying red flags.

Brazil’s leftist opposition say the spending cap proposed by Temer would cripple public education and health services in Brazil. To make the bill more palatable, Temer has proposed delaying cuts in education and health for a year, while insisting the belt-tightening measures are needed to restore fiscal discipline and control a widening budget deficit.

The protests also targeted lawmakers seeking an amnesty from prosecution for taking kickbacks in the massive corruption scandal surrounding state-controlled oil company Petrobras. (PETR4.SA). They recalled mass protests in 2013 against corruption and costly stadiums built for the football World Cup.

The Senate is expected to vote for the drastic public spending ceiling in a first-round vote later on Tuesday. The measure, if it clears a final vote on Dec. 13, would limit spending to the rate of inflation for up to 20 years, with the option for a presidential revision after 10 years.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Adriano Machado; Editing by Andrew Hay and Jonathan Oatis

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