BRASILIA: Thousands of protesters took to the streets in dozens of cities in Brazil on Thursday for a second nationwide demonstration in as many weeks over the government’s plan to slash education spending.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has provoked outrage among students and teachers over its proposal to freeze 30% of discretionary spending for public universities in the second half of this year.
A suspension of post-graduate scholarships for students in science and the humanities has also fuelled anger.
Protests began in the capital Brasilia in the morning and have since spread across the country to more than 80 cities, local media reported.
“The main message is that a 30% cut to education is absurd and makes it impossible for higher education in this country,” said Lina Vilela, a teacher at the Brasilia rally where protesters held posters with messages such as “Our books and pencils are our weapons.”
Karina Afonseca said she was protesting against “the intellectual setback” Bolsonaro’s actions would cause in Brazil.
“I’m here for those who are poor and deserve the right to quality public education,” social services student Kaio Duarte said.
“I’m worried that the next generation won’t have all of the rights to education that I have had.”
In Rio de Janeiro, protesters carried signs describing Bolsonaro as “the enemy of education.”
“We can’t simply pretend everything is OK – it is not OK,” said university student Isadora Duarte, 24.
Tens of thousands protested across Brazil on May 15 – the first nationwide demonstration since Bolsonaro took power in January, which underscored growing opposition to the embattled president.
Bolsonaro, who has railed against socialism as he seeks to promote his ultraconservative ideas, described the May 15 protesters as “useful idiots” and accused leftist militants of stoking the rallies.
But Thursday’s turnout could be lower after the government said it would free up 1.59 billion reais in funding (about US$400 million) for the sector.
Thursday’s demonstrations come after thousands of pro-Bolsonaro protesters marched in cities across Brazil on Sunday in a show of support for the leader, who has seen his popularity plummet in his first five months in office.
Among their demands was for Congress to speed up approval of the government’s stalled pension overhaul, seen as key to unlocking other much-needed reforms that are crucial to kick-starting economic growth.