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Violent protests outside Brazil Congress over austerity measures

BRASILIA Police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse thousands of demonstrators protesting against cutbacks to social programs outside Brazil’s Congress on Tuesday as Senators prepared to vote for a 20-year cap on federal spending.

Protesters burned three cars, smashed windows on government buildings and threw rocks at police on the ministry-lined central esplanade of Brasilia, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Around 10,000 protesters – ranging from students and landless peasants to supporters of the leftist Workers Party and labour union activists – descended on Congress ahead of the decision, a police spokeswoman said.

The protests turned violent when some demonstrators overturned a car and knocked over plastic toilet booths, forcing the police to act against them to protect Congress, she said.

An undisclosed number of protesters were arrested for vandalism and spraying graffiti on government buildings.

Brazil’s leftist opposition say the spending cap proposed by President Michel Temer would cripple public education and health services in Brazil. To make the bill more palatable, Temer proposed delaying cuts in education and health for a year.

Many of the demonstrators carried the red flags of the Workers Party, which has called for protests against Temer’s belt-tightening measures which are meant to restore fiscal discipline and control a widening budget deficit.

The protests also targeted lawmakers seeking an amnesty from prosecution for taking kickbacks in the massive corruption scandal surrounding state-controlled oil company Petrobras. (PETR4.SA)

The Senate is expected to vote for a drastic public spending ceiling in a first-round vote later on Tuesday. The measure, if it clears a final vote on Dec. 13, would limit spending to the rate of inflation for up to 20 years.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Andrew Hay)