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Brazilians protest corruption, target president's ally
[SAO PAULO] Brazilians marched in cities across the country Sunday, protesting against corrupt politicians and fears that Congress will try to scupper a huge anti-graft probe.
Dressed overwhelmingly in the green and yellow national colours and waving the Brazilian flag, thousands of demonstrators massed on a beachside avenue in Rio's posh Copacabana and outside Congress in the capital Brasilia.
The biggest gathering was in the centre of the financial powerhouse Sao Paulo, where police put the crowd at 15,000.
The peaceful protests expressed support for Operation Car Wash, a probe that has uncovered mass embezzlement by politicians and top executives at the state oil company Petrobras and other businesses.
"Car Wash - protected by the people," read a placard in Rio carried by a man wrapped in the Brazilian flag.
Demonstrators were furious over a vote earlier this week by the lower house of Congress - where many deputies are themselves suspects in criminal probes - to weaken a long-planned anti-corruption bill, and over the intimidation of judges and prosecutors.
The vote, which took place while most Brazilians slept during the early hours of Wednesday, prompted prosecutors from the Car Wash case to threaten resignation.
In Rio, protesters lauded Sergio Moro, the judge heading Car Wash cases, chanting: "Moro, fighter for the Brazilian people!" "We trust in Moro," read placards in Sao Paulo.
Latin America's biggest country has been in turmoil all year.
Car Wash revelations have already brought down major political and business figures, the economy is in its worst recession in decades, and the leftist president Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August, replaced by centre-right veteran Michel Temer, triggering nationwide tensions.
The protesters' main target on Sunday was the powerful Senate speaker, Renan Calheiros, who made a failed bid this week to get the upper house to quickly confirm the lower chamber's controversial corruption bill.
A key Temer ally, Mr Calheiros also faced a Supreme Court ruling this week ordering him to stand trial on multiple corruption charges.
"Renan out!" and "Lock Renan up!" the crowd chanted in Brasilia, where protesters performed a mock funeral march with a coffin inscribed "corruption." In Rio, comedian Marcelo Madureira told the crowd from a sound truck that the street pressure that had helped push out the unpopular Ms Rousseff would now bring more change to Brazil.
"Every time we've taken to the streets we've won," he said. "And what is the scalp we want most now? We want the head of Renan Calheiros." Mr Temer's office issued a statement praising the demonstrators and promising that the authorities "are always attentive to the demands of the Brazilian population." However, the unrest could spell bad news for Mr Temer, who came to power with an agenda to put a broken country back together.
The uproar around Mr Calheiros is only the latest in a series of scandals engulfing Mr Temer's allies and ministers, reducing his credibility just when he is starting to push through painful economic austerity measures.
Globo newspaper columnist Gerson Camarotti said that although Mr Temer is not a target at present, he's spooked by Brazilians' return to the streets.
"Right now, there's a perception that the main target of the demonstrations is the Senate president, Renan Calheiros," Mr Camarotti wrote. "But there's a private recognition that this wave of protests could rapidly reach the president of the republic."
Sao Paulo protester Paula Suarez, an artist who came wearing a yellow shirt, said Brazilians are in no mood for compromise.
"We were in the street to support impeachment, but the politicians can't relax," Ms Suarez, 51, said. "They should know we'll stay in the street against them all." "We want popular protests in the street to bring real change for Brazil," said her friend Marilene Nicolossi, 65.