BRASILIA, Aug 26 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters from across the country marched on Brasilia Thursday to demonstrate against the social and economic policies of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Military police estimated some 60,000 people were taking part in the protest, dubbed "The March of One Hundred Thousand" by its organizers. Left-wing organizers said 90,000 out of an expected 110,000 had shown up, most of them arriving in buses from around the country. Waving posters denouncing the government's social policies and shouting "Out FHC (Cardoso), out IMF (International Monetary Fund)," the demonstrators walked from the national cathedral to the national Congress. There, protest leaders stood on a platform greeting the marchers and leading protest songs over loudspeakers before handing a list of their demands to Michel Temer, head of the Chamber of Deputies. Among the petition's demands, undersigned by some 1.3 million people, is the formation of a congressional investigation committee to look into last year's privatization of the national telephone company Telebras. Planned by Brazil's left-wing political parties and some 80 other organizations and unions, the protest also targeted the country's high unemployment rate and recent price increases. Cardoso has pushed through a number of economic belt-tightening measures in exchange for an IMF-led 41.5 billion dollar financial package. Brazil, among the ten largest world economies, plunged into turmoil after floating its exchange rate in January after being buffeted by the Asian and Russian economic storms. But according to the IMF, Brazil's economy has performed better than expected this year, and is now faced with the prospect of a one percent decline in GDP compared to four percent projected earlier, despite a nearly 40 percent devaluation of the currency in January. Inflation is expected to be contained at around eight percent, the Fund said Monday. By early afternoon more than 200 buses were being held back at the entry to the capital so police could search them before allowing them down the four-kilometer (2.5 miles) strip to the national Congress building. Police had declared the presidential palace off limits to the demonstrators. Rows of anti-riot police had blocked the road. Although organizers had promised the march would be "peaceful and democratic," some 6,500 police and 1,000 firemen were deployed across the city. Another 26,500 soldiers were on alert in their barracks, military police Colonel Jair Tedeschi told AFP.
The thousands of activists also held a moment of silence to protest the recent acquittal of police officers accused of having led the massacre of 19 peasants three years ago in the Amazonian state of Para. The huge demonstration was due to wind up at 2100 GMT, organizers said