Brazil leader breaks silence about protests

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 22, 2013 at 8:20 am •  Published: June 22, 2013
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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed to battle corruption while improving government services as she acknowledged the anger that has led to vast, sometimes violent protests across Latin America's largest country.

Friday's nationally broadcast 10-minute address ended Rousseff's much-criticized silence in the face of demonstrations that have roiled the nation for more than a week, and were projected to continue on Saturday.

She said she planned to soon meet with leaders of the protest movement, governors and the mayors of major cities. But it remained unclear who could represent the massive and decentralized groups of demonstrators taking to the streets, venting anger over a range of grievances, including woeful public services despite a high tax burden.

Rousseff said that her government would create a national plan for public transportation in cities. Officials in many cities have already backed down from the hike in bus and subway fares that set off the protests. She also reiterated her backing for a plan before congress to invest all oil revenue royalties in education and a promise she made earlier to bring in foreign doctors to areas that lack physicians.

"I want institutions that are more transparent, more resistant to wrongdoing," Rousseff said in reference to complaints of deep corruption in Brazilian politics, which is emerging as a focal point of the protests. "It's citizenship and not economic power that must be heard first."

The leader is a Marxist rebel who fought against Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime and was imprisoned for three years and tortured by the junta, and she pointedly referred to earlier sacrifices made to free the nation from dictatorship.

"My generation fought a lot so that the voice of the streets could be heard," Rousseff said. "Many were persecuted, tortured and many died for this. The voice of the street must be heard and respected and it can't be confused with the noise and truculence of some troublemakers."

Edvaldo Chaves, a 61-year-old doorman in Rio's upscale Flamengo neighborhood, said he found the speech convincing.

"I thought she seemed calm and cool. Plus, because she was a guerrilla and was in exile, she talks about the issue of protests convincingly," Chaves said. "I think things are going to calm down. We'll probably keep seeing people in the streets but probably small numbers now."

But Bruna Romao, an 18-year-old store clerk in Sao Paulo, said Rousseff's words probably wouldn't have an impact.

"Brazilians are passionate," she said. "We boil over quickly but also cool down fast. But this time it's different, people are in full revolt. I don't see things calming down anytime soon."

Some 1 million anti-government demonstrators took to the streets nationwide Thursday night to denounce everything from poor public services to the billions of dollars spent preparing for next year's World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The protests continued Friday, as about 1,000 people marched in western Rio de Janeiro city, with some looting stores and invading a $250 million arts center that remains empty after several years of construction. Police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas as they were pelted with rocks. Police said some in the crowd were armed and firing at officers.