Police stand around and a journalist dies while covering a protest in Brazil

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: And now to another part of the world where journalists face dangers: Brazil. Two weeks ago photojournalist Santiago Andrade died while covering a protest in Rio de Janeiro. It happened just outside the central train station. Demonstrators had converged on the building to protest a fare increase. Those kinds of protests have broken out over the past year as Brazil prepares to host the World Cup this summer. The BBC's Wyre Davies was at the demonstration where Andrade was killed and he describes what happened.

Wyre Davies: I saw quite clearly with my own eyes, as we were between protesters and the police, what was a flare or a very large firework lying on the ground. I was about the shout out, because I saw this thing alight, and suddenly it took off and exploded right behind Santiago Andrade's head and he fell to the ground immediately and we were with him in about four seconds.

Hills: Was this thing that exploded lying on the ground or did somebody throw it?

Davies: I didn't see anybody throw it but later television pictures seemed to show that one of the protesters threw it on the ground. This was like a large firework or a flare. It was certainly more than your average firework and it caused an awful lot of damage. When I had reached Santiago he had very, very bad head wounds and we did our best to try and save him and get him to a hospital. The scene was totally chaotic. Nobody really knew what to do from a first aid perspective. There was a lot of recriminations going on. The police were standing off and luckily for myself and my cameramen, Chuck Tayman, we'd had all the necessary training and did what we could to try and save him.

Hills: It's so sad. I know Wyre you're no stranger to reporting in hostile environments. How does reporting in Brazil compare to the places you've reported during the Arab Spring, for example?

Davies: Yes, it's a good point. I never really expected the same level of intensity when it comes to violence here. Latin America can be a violent place, we've had military coups here in the past. There is social upheaval and a lot of tension on the ground here but nothing I would have expected to match what I'd seen in Syria and Tunisia and Libya in particular.

The protests here have been violent and this is a real problem for the government in Brazil because we have a World Cup coming up, then we've got the Olympics. There's a general election later this year. All of these events could make an unhealthy mix to bring out more protesters on the streets. There is a feeling that the protests again will get violent even though, and it must be said, this is very important, that only a small minority of those protesting ever, ever resort to violence.

Hills: When you say violence, you mentioned that it kind of goes from 0 to 60 very fast. What are we talking about? What are protesters doing and how the authorities responding?

Davies: Both sides are to blame. We've got the military police here; it's a militarized police force, then you've got this hardcore group of anarchists protests known as the "Black Blocs." The Black Blocs, usually towards the end of a protest, when it gets dark, they break off, they attack big institutional buildings like McDonald's or the big banks or political bodies. They are anti-internationalization and they will try and destroy those buildings. They throw molotov cocktails.

What they were doing at the train station the other day was destroying the ticketing machines. Then you get the response from the military police which is no attempt at containment. You had the confined space of a train station and with hundreds of commuters leaving work - this happened at about 7 o'clock in the evening - and then suddenly the police are firing tear gas, they're fire stun grenades. There's no real subtle approach. But equally, of course, they blame the protesters for being committed to destroying and disrupting the World Cup, so both sides are clearly to blame.

Hills: You've said several times in this interview that you expect these protests to start up again. Is that in anticipation of the World Cup?

Davies: I think so. The local government here in Rio have stuck to these price increases. There's a lot of discontent in Brazil at the amount of money that the government has spent on the World Cup to bring these stadiums to Brazil, about $15 billion. A lot of people don't see any public dividend. They don't see the promised infrastructural benefits. The public transport systems that were meant to come to all of these World Cup venues, along with the stadiums, have mainly been dropped. It's become a very big public expenditure, embarrassment for Brazil. The World Cup, the football, the soccer will be a success, but I do wonder how Brazil as a nation will benefit from the World Cup and that is one of the reasons we're seeing so many protests.

Hills: The BBC's Wyre Davies in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks Wyre.

Davies: My pleasure.