Hundreds of public sector workers in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro protested against austerity measures imposed in the country at a time when it is facing a severe budget crisis. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd gathered outside the state assembly building on Tuesday, 6 December.

However, police fired the rubber bullets on the demonstrators from a nearby church, angering Roman Catholic authorities in the city, who have promised an inquiry into the incident. Several protesters as well as police personnel were reportedly injured during the unrest.

The demonstrations took place when lawmakers were debating spending cuts in the state assembly. Close to 300 government workers, most of who have not been paid in months, were protesting against the strict budget cuts adopted by the cash-strapped government, Agence France Presse reported. The budget deficit had prompted the city administration to declare a financial emergency ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics in August.

Rio Governor Luis Fernando Pezao presented an austerity package in November, proposing more spending cuts and taxes, which need to be ratified by the legislature. The voting on the proposed measures began on Tuesday and is scheduled to last through next Monday, 12 December.

AFP reported that according to state officials' forecast for 2016, the government is facing a deficit equivalent to $5.4bn (£4.3bn), which could rise three times by the end of 2018 if the austerity measures are not adopted now.

The Associated Press quoted a statement from military police as saying that 11 of their officers were injured in the clashes. It was unclear how many protesters were injured.

"As you can see here in Brazil, we have thieves leaving government, thieves entering government, thieves in the state government, thieves in the federal government," Ronaldo Moreno, a spokesman for the oil workers union in Rio, told the AP.

"What is happening today is a fight by public workers, but it is a fight by everyone," he added.

Tio austerity protest
Civil servants protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in front of the State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 6 December REUTERS/Fabio Texeira