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Brazil workers protest pension reform, disrupt transport

By Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Brad Haynes

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian civil servants, rural workers and labor unions staged nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday against President Michel Temer's pension reform plan, with hundreds of protesters occupying the finance ministry in the capital Brasilia.

Bus and subway services were partially disrupted in São Paulo, the country's biggest city, where small street demonstrations around the city snarled drivers in traffic.

"The traffic stopped everything. It was chaos," said Claudio Rogerio Santos, a taxi driver in Sao Paulo who brought four carpooling workers to a telemarketing firm that paid for their ride. "It meant more demand for cabs, but I doubt the politicians are paying any attention."

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Temer and his allies in the ruling coalition say capping pension benefits and raising the retirement age is key to fixing public finances and pulling the country out of its worst recession in more than a century. Powerful unions have pledged to fight the proposed reform tooth and nail.

In Brasilia more than 1,500 people from peasant and homeless groups protested at the finance ministry, the Landless Workers Movement said in a statement. Protesters invaded the ministry in the dawn hours and some remained nearly eight hours later.

Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said some damage occurred inside the ministry, without providing details.

"Several floors of the building were invaded because of this strike," Meirelles told reporters in Brasilia.

Public transportation workers in the cities of Recife, Belo Horizonte and Curitiba also pledged to join the strike. Striking teachers and bankers shuttered some schools and banks in Rio de Janeiro, where public transport was less affected.

Afternoon demonstrations on major avenues in Brazil's biggest cities were expected to draw the biggest crowds, with some wary of clashes with police.

The demonstrations reflect the deep ideological divide among Brazilians as Temer seeks to pass the nation's most ambitious pension, labor and tax reforms in two decades.

Last week, Temer acknowledged that his administration would have to negotiate with Congress to win passage of the pension reform.

Still, Meirelles and allied lawmakers say there is not much room for changes to Temer's original proposal if the country wants to reduce a record budget deficit that has undermined investor confidence.

(Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Marcela Ayres in Brasilia, Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by W Simon and Lisa Von Ahn)