Hector Velasco | AFP
Published — Sunday 23 June 2013
Last update 23 June 2013 4:18 am
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil: Fresh protests erupted across Brazil Saturday despite conciliatory remarks by President Dilma Rousseff, who pledged to improve public services and fight harder against corruption.
Rousseff’s televised address late Friday appeared to have done little to satisfy protesters, as activists vowed to continue the struggle and ordinarily football-mad Brazilians once again protested outside the Confederations Cup.
Some 60,000 people chanting “The Cup for whom?” rallied in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte as a Japan-Mexico match was under way as part of the international football tournament, a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup.
Police fired tear gas when some of the protesters hurled stones and tried to break through the security perimeter around the Mineirao stadium.
“We are against the World Cup because it masks the problems the country faces,” said musician Leonardo Melo, who dismissed Rousseff’s speech as “rhetoric.”
Over the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians have protested against the billions of dollars being spent on the World Cup, accusing the government of wasting money and neglecting health, education and transport.
More than one million marched in scores of cities on Thursday.
In Salvador, where Brazil faced Italy in another Confederations Cup match, a small crowd of around 200 protested Saturday, according to an AFP reporter.
Inside the stadium, dozens of fans brandished placards proclaiming: “Let’s go to the streets to change Brazil,” while other protests were held in a dozen cities, including Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
In Sao Paulo, hundreds of people protested against a proposed constitutional amendment that would take away the power of independent public prosecutors to probe crimes, making it harder to combat corruption.
As the Rousseff government tried to address the ever rising tide of dissatisfaction over its social policies, former football star-turned Socialist politician Romario joined the debate, praising the demonstrators and dubbing world football body FIFA “Brazil’s real president.”
In her address, Rousseff offered Brazilians a “great pact” between the government and the people to improve shoddy public services and stressed the need for “more effective ways to fight corruption.”
But her intervention left the protesters unmoved, judging by a torrent of comments on social media websites.
“I was depressed listening to Dilma. It’s a joke, right? Dilma treats us as if we are idiots,” read one typical comment.
“We want dates and times, action. Promises are not enough,” wrote another.
FIFA, however, which is helping Brazil host the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup, praised Rousseff’s conciliatory message.
“We welcome President Rousseff’s address to the nation and reaffirm our cooperation to help the government ensure a successful and safe Confederations Cup and World Cup,” the world football governing body said.
The protests have been largely peaceful but some have been marred by violence and acts of vandalism, notably in Rio and Brasilia, with two deaths recorded to date.
The popular outrage, dubbed by some a “Tropical Spring,” echoing similar protest movements in the Arab world, the United States and more recently in Turkey, has come as a shock to outside observers.
Rousseff’s predecessor and political mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva left office in 2010 with a soaring 80 percent approval rating, and his social policies are credited with lifting 40 million Brazilians out of poverty.
Lula also helped raise Brazil’s international profile, and the World Cup was seen as a key milestone in its emergence as a global power player after several years of steady economic growth.
But despite the nationwide obsession with football, the protesters say they feel left behind as they watch gleaming new stadiums spring up in cities paralyzed by traffic jams and clogged with aging trains and buses.
“People have a right to criticize,” Rousseff said, promising to meet with the leaders of peaceful demonstrations as well as workers and community leaders.
But the president warned against further violence, saying “the government cannot stand by as people attack public property ... and bring chaos to our streets.”
In Sao Paulo, the Free Pass Movement (MPL) that kicked off the nationwide protests over a hike in mass transit fares two weeks ago said on its Facebook page that the demonstrations would go on despite the repeal of the increase.
The MPL now says it will press on until public transport is free of charge.