Sao Paulo, March 14 Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets nationwide in support of President Dilma Rousseff and state-controlled oil company Petrobras ahead of anti-government rallies planned for Sunday, Efe news agency reported.
Labour unions, leftist activists and students held peaceful marches on Friday in cities in 24 of Brazil’s 27 states, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, to defend Petrobras against “movements seeking its privatisation”.
The demonstrators also expressed support for Rousseff but some criticised recent austerity measures, including cuts to government spending and the paring back of tax breaks, aimed at reducing a large budget deficit.
Friday’s demonstrations were held two days before planned rallies on Sunday in more than 50 cities to protest corruption and the country’s economic woes, although some right-wing groups are seeking to impeach Rousseff and a small minority is even openly calling for military intervention.
“People have the right to demonstrate in favour of or against the government. But coup-mongering, no. Sunday’s demonstration cannot have that characteristic,” Vagner Freitas, head of the CUT labour federation, which organised Friday’s rallies in favour of Rousseff, told Efe in Sao Paulo.
On Friday, an opposition lawmaker filed a formal request for Rousseff’s impeachment, although Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer said the possibility of the head of state facing an impeachment trial is “unthinkable”.
During Friday’s demonstrations, the marchers called for corrupt Petrobras executives to be punished over a massive kickback scandal that has rocked Brazil in recent months and is said to have cost the company billions of dollars.
But they also said the company cannot be weakened as a result of the corruption probes.
The scandal involves accusations that some of Brazil’s leading engineering and construction companies formed a cartel to overcharge for Petrobras contracts.
Those outside companies then allegedly split the extra money with corrupt Petrobras officials while setting aside some of the loot to pay off politicians who provided cover for the graft.
As a result of the scandal, formal charges have already been filed against three of Petrobras’s former directors and executives from several of the country’s leading construction firms.
On March 6, Brazil’s Supreme Court cleared the way for prosecutors to investigate dozens of politicians over the Petrobras scandal, including the heads of both houses of Congress.
Nearly all of those politicians are allies of Rousseff, although the president, a former chair of Petrobras’s board who was re-elected president by a slim margin last October, will not be subject to a probe.