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Brazilian Workers Protest Against Pension Changes

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It was a day full of protests in Brazil yesterday. Latin America's largest country was disrupted by nationwide strikes and demonstrations. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This is a land where political protest is often expressed in music.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: That's a popular Brazilian rap song rewritten as a battle cry against the government's economic policy. Those performers were among many thousands of people who took to the streets here. In the capital, Brasilia, protesters broke into the ministry of finance. In Sao Paolo, the country's biggest city, they caused a huge traffic jam. In Rio, a big crowd gathered downtown and poured scorn on the president, Michel Temer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting in Portuguese).

REEVES: Temer, out, they shouted. Not so long ago, Brazil was feted as one of the world's fastest growing economies. That's a distant memory now. Brazil's economy shrank by more than 7 percent over the past two years amid the worst recession in its history. President Temer's seeking to turn this around by overhauling the country's very costly pension system. Many Brazilians retire before they're 55. Teachers, civil servants, bank workers and bus drivers, unions and leftist parties were among those out protesting his plans yesterday. And so was Meire Pereira, who's 49, has four grandchildren and works in an office where she cleans and serves coffee.

MEIRE PEREIRA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Why don't the politicians look at their salaries and privileges," she asks. Contempt for politicians runs deep in Brazil these days. It's fueled by the involvement of many senior figures, including some of the president's associates, in a massive corruption scandal. Temer, who's 76, is especially unpopular. This doesn't seem to deter him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES MICHEL TEMER: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Speaking yesterday, he explained he's not interested in being a populist leader who wins plenty of plaudits but has disastrous policies. He believes history will vindicate him. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.