More than a million Brazilians took to the streets of at least 80 Brazilian towns and cities in demonstrations that saw violent clashes and renewed calls for an end to government corruption and demands for better public services.

Riot police battled protesters in at least five cities, with some of the most intense clashes in Rio de Janeiro, where an estimated 300,000 demonstrators swarmed into the city’s central area.

An 18-year-old man was killed in Sao Paulo after a car drove through barricades, while television images showed police firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into crowds of young men, their faces wrapped in T-shirts.

The scenes prompted president Dilma Rousseff to end her near-silence on the unrest sweeping the country by declaring that ‘the voice of the street must be heard and respected’.

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Revolution: A football shirt-clad protester waves the Brazilian flag through clouds of smoke and teargas during violent clashes between protesters and police in Rio de Janeiro last night

Revolution: A football shirt-clad protester waves the Brazilian flag through clouds of smoke and teargas during violent clashes between protesters and police in Rio de Janeiro

 

 
Violent scenes: Policemen from the special Choque unit carry an injured colleague during a protest in Rio de Janeiro of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and bus far price hikes

Violent scenes: Policemen from the special Choque unit carry an injured colleague during a protest in Rio de Janeiro of what is now called the ‘Tropical Spring’ against corruption and bus far price hikes.

She said peaceful demonstrations were part of a strong democracy, but that violence could not be tolerated.

‘I’m going to meet with the leaders of the peaceful protests, I want institutions that are more transparent, more resistant to wrongdoing,’ Rouseff said in referecence to perceptions 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,’ she said.

 
Flag-waving: A woman waves the Brazilian flag in Fortaleza amid anger over government corruption, high taxes, poor public services, and the billions being spent on the World Cup tournament

Flag-waving: A woman waves the Brazilian flag in Fortaleza amid anger over government corruption, high taxes, poor public services, and the billions being spent on the World Cup tournament.

Talks: Although the President vowed to hold talks with protest leaders, it remained unclear who could represent the massive and decentralised groups of demonstrators

Talks: Although the President vowed to hold talks with protest leaders, it remained unclear who could represent the massive and decentralised groups of demonstrators

But it remained unclear exactly who could represent the massive and decentralised groups of demonstrators taking to the streets to vent their anger at woeful public services in spite of high taxes.

The President has called off a scheduled visit to Japan to deal with the crisis.

Though offering no details, Rousseff said that her government would create a national plan for public transportation in cities – a hike in bus and subway fares in many cities was the original catalyst for 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.

The leader, a former Marxist rebel who fought against Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime and was imprisoned for three years and tortured by the junta, 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.’

The President had been widely criticised for being all but invisible amid the protests and failing to engage with the people who were demanding her government’s attention.

Official estimates suggest that there were more than a million protesters out across the country in total.  

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

Others were less sure, including Bruna Romao, an 18-year-old store clerk in Sao Paulo, who 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.’

Trying to decipher the president’s reaction to the unrest had become a national guessing game, especially after some one million anti-government demonstrators took to the streets nationwide on 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 yesterday, as about 1,000 people marched in western Rio de Janeiro city, with some looting stores and invading an enormous $250 million arts center that remains empty after several years of construction.

 
Unrest: A group of protesters lie on the ground as they wait to be searched by police during anti-government demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Unrest: A group of protesters lie on the ground as they wait to be searched by police during anti-government demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

 
People power: Protesters raise their hands to show they are not armed amid massive anti-government demonstrations sweeping Brazil

People power: Protesters raise their hands to show they are not armed amid massive anti-government demonstrations sweeping Brazil.

In Brasilia, police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry as protesters lit a small fire outside.

Other government buildings were attacked around the capital’s central esplanade, and police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets in attempts to scatter the crowds.

Clashes were also reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in the university town Campinas, north of Sao Paulo, and in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

The protests took place a week after a violent police crackdown on a much smaller protests in Sao Paulo galvanised Brazilians to take to the streets.

The unrest is hitting the nation as it hosts the Confederations Cup football tournament with tens of thousands of foreign visitors in attendance.

It also comes a month before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the nation, and ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, raising concerns about how Brazilian officials will provide security.

In Salvador, police shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse a small crowd of protesters trying to break through a police barrier blocking one of the city’s streets.

One woman was injured in her foot. Elsewhere in Salvador 5,000 protesters gathered in Campo Grand Square.

Despite the energy on the street, many protesters said they were unsure how the movement would win real political concessions.

People in the protests have held up signs asking for everything from education reforms to free bus fares while denouncing the billions of public pounds spent on stadiums in advance of the World Cup and the Olympics.

 

 

 

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