Comparison of mass protests in Brazil and Turkey

KARL RITTER, Associated Press
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Protestors burn a Sao Paulo state flag in front of City Hall, Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo)

Protestors burn a Sao Paulo state flag in front of City Hall, Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo)

Large-scale protests have engulfed Turkey and Brazil, which are thousands of miles apart, but share some traits such as being new democracies with a growing middle class. Here’s a look at the protests in both countries, highlighting the similarities and differences in how they started and developed:

WHAT SPARKED THE PROTESTS?

BRAZIL: Unrest was set off earlier this month by a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere. The protests soon moved beyond that issue to tap into widespread frustration in Brazil over a range of issues, including high taxes, woeful public services and enormous government spending for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Widespread images of a violent police crackdown on protests last week galvanized tens of thousands to take to the streets.

TURKEY: Protests started May 28 with a peaceful sit-in by environmental activists trying to prevent the uprooting of trees as part of plans to redevelop a park next to Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

A police crackdown three days later incited nationwide protests.

HOW DID AUTHORITIES REACT?

BRAZIL: Police responded forcefully to a single protest last week, with riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds and beating protesters with batons. The crackdown energized more people to join the protests.

President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship, hailed the protests for raising questions and strengthening Brazil’s democracy, but has yet to offer concrete solutions to the myriad problems. Unlike Turkey’s leader, Rousseff remains popular among many of the protesters.

TURKEY: A violent intervention by police at Taksim Square escalated the situation, with protests spreading quickly across Turkey. The U.N. and human rights activists expressed alarm over reports that tear gas canisters and pepper spray were fired directly at demonstrators and into closed spaces. Police have also used water cannons to disperse crowds. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the protesters in bellicose language that upset European leaders and seems to have caused another setback to Turkey’s chances of EU membership.

WHO ARE THE PROTESTERS?

BRAZIL: A single group calling for lowered transit fees set the protests in motion, but the mass gatherings are showing no evidence of any central leadership, with people using social media to call for marches and rallies. The protests have drawn a mix of leftist groups, students, disgruntled ordinary citizens and a minority of masked vandals.

TURKEY: The protesters have included people from all walks of life, but are mainly urban, educated, middle-class and mostly secular-minded people, venting their anger at what they say are Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic ways. His Islamic-rooted ruling party has passed restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcohol and tried to limit women’s access to abortion, but later abandoned those plans.

WHAT DO THEY WANT?

BRAZIL: The only concrete demand so far is for local governments to reverse recent hikes in public transportation fares. Demonstrators are expressing deep anger with corruption in government and the low quality of public services. They’re also slamming Brazil’s government for spending billions of dollars to host the World Cup and the Olympics while leaving other needs unmet.

TURKEY: The protests have in large part been directed at Erdogan, his attempts to strengthen his rule through constitutional changes and what some say is the erosion of freedoms and secular values. They have also exposed fissures between the conservative and religious classes and the urban and largely secular-oriented Turks.

HOW LARGE HAVE THE PROTESTS BEEN?

BRAZIL: The demonstrations have been mushrooming across the country. On Tuesday night, around 50,000 people massed for a protest in Sao Paulo. The previous night, protests across Brazil drew about 240,000 people. Massive and widespread protests are being called for on Thursday.

TURKEY: The protests quickly spread from central Istanbul to dozens of cities across Turkey. Tens of thousands took to the streets in nightly protests which at times turned violent. Their numbers have now dwindled to a couple of thousand in Ankara on Tuesday night. A new form of peaceful resistance is now spreading through Turkey, with people standing motionless in a symbolic protest.

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