Brazilian protesters ‘being heard,’ president says

Posted at 6:57 PM, Jun 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-18 20:57:49-04

By Mariano Castillo and Shasta Darlington


SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) -- Sao Paulo is the scene of another night of protests in Brazil, with demonstrators calling for a government more responsive to Brazilians' needs.

Protests have been staged in major cities across the country, but Sao Paulo was the focal point of Tuesday's marches.

The thousands who gathered were mostly peaceful, and the atmosphere was almost festive. But at least one small group unsuccessfully tried to force their way into a municipal building.

Police for the most part stood back, but repelled those who tried to enter the government building by bashing its windows with police barriers.

Brazilians say they are angry about high taxes, corruption, and lavish spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament, among other complaints. Protests on Monday were the largest in the country in at least 20 years.

President Dilma Rousseff said Tuesday their message was being heard.

"The direct message from the streets is for more citizenship, better schools, better hospitals, better health, for direct participation," she said in a nationally televised address. "My government is trying and committed to social transformation."

The feeling among the protesters is that they are paying into a system that is not giving them back enough in return.

"It's all about national priorities," said Fernando Jones, a CNN iReporter who participated in protests in Rio de Janeiro. "We want health, we want education."

Brazilians like himself find themselves asking how the government is using their taxes for its citizens, while watching as millions are spent on preparations for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

"People can't take it anymore," he said.

While praising the largely peaceful protests, Rousseff said that what she characterized as "isolated and minor acts of violence" should be confronted "with vigor."

Government officials say they recognize the protester's freedom of expression, but that there is a lack of a unified message from the demonstrators.

The country's investment for the World Cup and Olympics includes money for health and public transportation projects that address some of the protesters' concerns, Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes said.

"There is absolutely nothing contradictory between organizing a World Cup and investing in health and education," he said.

The protests are being organized largely by university students and a group called the Free Fare Movement, which wants public transportation to be free of charge.

The protests follow a week of smaller demonstrations that began in response to plans to increase fares for Brazil's public transportation system, from 3 to 3.20 reais ($1.38 to $1.47), but have broadened into wider protests over economic and social issues plaguing the country.

Protesters say they are angry about, among other things, government decisions to spend money on the World Cup and other projects instead of improving health care, education and other social programs.

Brazil is building stadiums and revamping its infrastructure ahead of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, events that will put the world's focus on the Latin American nation of 201 million people.

The protests have attracted international attention, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Brazilian authorities Tuesday to show restraint in handling protesters.

Last week, at least 100 people were injured and 120 arrested after violent clashes between police and protesters in Sao Paulo. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters and journalists, bringing complaints of brutality and targeting of media covering the events.

Shasta Darlington reported from Sao Paulo; Mariano Castillo wrote from Atlanta; CNN's Micheal Pearson, Marilia Brocchetto and Ben Brumfield also contributed to this report.

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