Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians angered by a giant corruption scandal and the crumbling economy flooded the streets Sunday to call for removal of President Dilma Rousseff.
Chanting "Dilma out!" and draped in the bright yellow and green national flag, huge crowds across the country sought to pressure Congress into accelerating impeachment proceedings against Rousseff.
In Sao Paulo, the country\’s biggest city and an opposition stronghold, huge crowds filled the central avenue well ahead of the advertised start for a protest that authorities expected to draw a million people.
"We are at a decisive moment for our country. We are going to start the change now," said Rogerio Chequer, leader of Vem Pra Rua, one of the main organizers of the demonstrations.
"I came because I\’m tired of seeing so much corruption and because I want to end the disorder that has taken over this country," said Rosilene Feitosa, a 61-year-old retiree.
In Rio de Janeiro, which will host the Summer Olympics this August, protesters singing and dancing to samba songs swarmed along the beachfront avenue in Copacabana. Organizers claimed almost a million people turned out, although there was no immediate way to verify this.
About 100,000 people marched in the capital Brasilia, a police source told AFP. Some 400 cities in all across Latin America\’s biggest country were staging protests.
Rousseff, whose leftist Workers\’ Party is struggling to hold on to power in the face of a massive corruption scandal and the worst recession in decades, urged demonstrators to remain peaceful.
"I am appealing for there not to be violence," the leftist president told Brazilian media. She tweeted that an opposition graffiti attack against student union offices in Sao Paulo was "intolerable."
However, the mood was calm. In Sao Paulo, many protesters brought their children, as if on a family outing, while in Rio demonstrators paused between singing samba tunes to buy coconut water from street hawkers.
Still, there was no disguising the anger.
"I\’m demonstrating today because I believe that only my participation can eventually stop the mismanagement of the country\’s riches," said Marcelo Antunes, 66, an engineer. "I think all Brazilians need to participate — we can\’t stand aside."
"We need to get rid of Dilma, the Workers\’ Party, the whole lot," said Rio resident Maria do Carmo, 73, who was carrying a Brazilian flag. "It\’s not their time anymore."
Rousseff is deeply unpopular because of a giant embezzlement and bribery scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras, and because of her management of the economy, which is in deep recession, and has been stripped of its investment grade ratings.
A bid to impeach her in Congress has stalled, but is set to pick up again, with pressure from the streets deemed a potentially critical factor in getting reluctant congressional deputies to make their move.
Adding to Rousseff\’s problems, her key mentor in the Workers\’ Party, ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is fighting allegations that he was part of the Petrobras corruption network.
As if that weren\’t enough, the PMDB party, which partners the Workers\’ Party in a shaky government coalition, indicated Saturday that it could pull out in 30 days.
Many protesters held placards depicting Rousseff and Lula as prisoners, while others praised the chief investigating judge in the Petrobras scandal, Sergio Moro, as "Our national pride."
"I want Dilma\’s impeachment now," said Gaudino Inacio, 70, at the Sao Paulo demonstration. "She\’s useless because she is unable to govern the country. After, we can have new elections."
Opposition movements like Vem Pra Rua are so well organized that anything less than a very large turnout would probably be seen as failure.
The biggest anti-government protest last year, in March, included an estimated 1.7 million people across Brazil, with a million in Sao Paulo alone. Some 1.2 million people attended another six months later.
Another factor likely to be scrutinized is whether the demonstrations draw a socio-economic mix of Brazilians or if they are composed largely of the white, better-off population, as in previous protests.