SAO PAULO (AP) — A transport strike snarled traffic in Brazil's biggest city and demonstrators broke into the Finance Ministry in the capital Wednesday as people protested across the country against proposed changes to work rules and pensions.
One of the biggest protests was in Sao Paulo, where local media cited organizers as saying tens of thousands of demonstrated on a central thoroughfare. Military police said they did not have an estimate for the size of the protest. Other protests happened in cities across Brazil.
After a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, small bands of protesters broke store windows and fought running battles with police into the night.
More than 1,500 people in Brasilia broke into the Finance Ministry overnight and occupied it for several hours, said military police and the Movement of Rural Workers Without Land, an activist group whose flag flew from one of the ministry's widows.
Traffic crawled through Sao Paulo due to a partial transport strike that began overnight. Fewer than half of the city's buses ran during the morning commute, the bus authority reported, though it said most buses were back on the streets later in the day. Only two of six subway lines operated normally, while three ran partial service.
Later in the day, protesters that included teachers, union members and leftist activists took to the streets of Sao Paulo to protest changes proposed by President Michel Temer for labor rules and the social security pension system.
Critics say his labor plan would reduce job security for Brazilian workers and his pension proposal would force many people to work longer to qualify for pensions and reduce retirement benefits for many.
Temer's government says changes in the state-run social security system are needed to avoid its financial collapse, though many unions dispute that the pension system is in trouble.
The labor changes would give companies more flexibility in hiring, including allowing longer temporary contracts, more part-time work and longer work days. The government says they are aimed at helping pull Brazil out of a deep two-year-old recession that has seen unemployment rise to 12.6 percent.
In a speech Wednesday, Temer said his proposed overhaul would keep Brazil from having to make the kinds of radical changes that European countries like Portugal and Greece were forced to make to revive their economies.
Brazilians "little by little will understand that it's necessary to support this road to put the country back on the rails," he said.
Pamela Lopes, a commuter in Sao Paulo disagreed, saying she wants to see more resistance to the changes even if it meant a tough commute.
"Life is difficult, and the government is deceiving us," said Lopes, a 23-year-old who works in human resources. "Everyone should be on strike."
Late Wednesday, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, who was president in 2003-2010 and has signaled that he will in next year's election, spoke to thousands of his supporters in Sao Paulo urging opposition to Temer.
"I would like to congratulate you because in taking to the streets you are showing those who believe that people are happy, that people are accepting (the situation), are wrong," Silva told the crowd.
Associated Press video journalist Mario Lobao in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.