Despite Assurances by Brazil's President, Protesters Stage Another Day of Demonstrations

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SÃO PAULO, Brazil -- Brazil braced for another day of demonstrations on Saturday, after many in the country's sweeping protest movement angrily dismissed an effort by President Dilma Rousseff to address their broad demands.

People took to the streets in some cities on Saturday morning, with protests expected in more than 20, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and smaller state capitals in the Amazon, like Rio Branco. One of the biggest was in Belo Horizonte, where an estimated 20,000 people had gathered by early afternoon.

Ms. Rousseff initially remained silent as the protest movement grew, although she publicly embraced the protesters' cause on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of São Paulo and other cities on Monday, and by Thursday more than a million demonstrators had turned out in dozens of cities.

In a speech on Friday night, Ms. Rousseff, a former guerrilla who fought the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s, praised the demonstrators for bringing a new energy to Brazilian politics and said repeatedly that she would listen to "the voice of the streets."

"If we can take advantage of the impulse of this new political energy," she said, "we can do many things better and faster that Brazil has not been able to do because of political or economic limitations."

But the proposals she offered in response to those voices were short on details, and included some programs for which she had been unable to garner support in the past. Ms. Rousseff said she would create a national transportation plan to promote mass transit, dedicate oil revenues to education and bring in foreign doctors to bolster the health care system.

Even as Ms. Rousseff's recorded message was being broadcast on television, demonstrators continued to march, and many said they were unaware that the president was speaking to them.

"I don't believe in her promises," Sergio Mazzini, 65, said late Friday night during a protest in the São Paulo city center. "There have been too many promises for me to keep believing. We don't know where all this is leading, but they are trying to fool us.

"They don't live our reality, so it's easy to talk about hospitals and schools when it's us who are suffering for lack of investment in priorities."

Felipe Possani, 20, an intern at a bank who was wearing a white mask in the style popularized by the hacker group Anonymous, had nothing but scorn. "She's a joke," he said. "She's just faking."

The protests were initially set off by demands for a rollback of transit fare increases, which officials in several cities agreed to last week. But citizens have also demanded action on an array of issues, calling for improvements in health care, public transit and education, lower taxes, gay rights and an end to corruption.

Another issue surging to the fore is a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the power of the Public Ministry, a body of independent public prosecutors.

Selena Mokdad, 19, a student, said she was deeply worried that the protest movement would lose its way by making too many diffuse demands, noting that there were no clear leaders to provide focus for the grievances.

"They're fighting for everything and nothing specific, so they're not going to change anything," Ms. Mokdad said.

And while many protesters angrily rejected Ms. Rousseff's proposals as empty promises, others said she should be given a chance.

"It's a bit naïve to talk about Dilma all the time," Ms. Mokdad said, adding that Ms. Rousseff had inherited a country with deeply ingrained problems, like corruption. "She's not responsible for everything. She's like in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't think the problem is her."

At the heart of the movement is a rejection of traditional politics in Brazil. Protesters have expressed deep cynicism toward the main political parties and their leaders.

Ms. Rousseff is expected to run for a second term next year, but a poll of protesters in São Paulo by Datafolha, a top research firm, found that only 10 percent said they would support her for re-election. Aécio Neves, a leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, received just 5 percent support.

But 30 percent said they would support Joaquim Barbosa, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who has won widespread admiration throughout Brazil for crusading against corruption and trying -- until now, without success -- to send political leaders convicted in a huge embezzlement and vote-buying scheme to jail.

Some prominent voices in Brazil have also begun lashing back at aspects of the protest movement. The Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo published a scathing editorial on Saturday in which it questioned the protesters' repudiation of political parties.

"It is an illusion to think that in democracy political projects can be carried out on the margin of parties," O Globo said.

And Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president of Brazil who broadly restructured the economy in the 1990s, warned that the protests could offer more jolts to political leaders.

"I have my doubts the parties are capable of capturing all this and at least transforming their message," Mr. Cardoso said in an interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

Paula Ramón contributed reporting.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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