Rousseff says Brazil can do better, vows to meet leaders of protests
BRASILIA - Agence France-Presse
Young people march next to a banner which reads 'Education' during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on June 21. AFP photoEmbattled President Dilma Rousseff admitted in a televised address late June 21 that Brazil can do better and pledged to do more to fight corruption, a day after more than a million people marched to demand better living conditions.
"We can do many things a lot better in Brazil," said Rousseff, the day after the protesters demanded cheaper transport and more investment in education and health as well as a tougher fight against endemic corruption.
"People have a right to criticize," added Rousseff saying she would staunchly defend that right.
In an appeal for unity Rousseff, who promised to meet with the leaders of peaceful demonstrations as well as workers and community leaders, went on: "I am the president of all Brazil. Of those who support the demonstration and those who do not." Reaching out to those who feel the government should direct more money to public services rather than on hosting major sporting events, she insisted that "football and sport are symbols of peace and peaceful coexistence."
But she added she would not stand by if demonstrations turned violent, as has been the case in several cities hit by cases of looting and attacks on public buildings including the foreign ministry and several government offices. "The government cannot stand by as people attack public property ... and bring chaos to our streets," she stressed.
"We need to inject oxygen into our political system, and make it more transparent and resistant to the tough challenges facing a country marked by extreme disparity between rich and poor," said Rousseff.
Fotball coach defends government
Meanwhile, Brazil football coach Luiz Felipe Scolari came to the defense of the Rousseff government Friday, for the first time since the mass protests began two weeks ago.
Some members of the Brazil squad, including star player Neymar, had previously expressed solidarity with the demonstrators, but Scolari said the government also wanted what was right for the country.
"We all want a fairer country, with everything you can imagine, and the people who are in government think that as well and are trying to do it. We can't just crucify them," he said during a press conference in Salvador.
"You have to realize that the people who are there (in government) think that as well. Often, situations don't develop in that way.
"We all want to work together towards that objective, which is to figure out in which areas there can be changes in two, five or 10 years, but not in one day."
Earlier Rousseff's chief of staff Gilberto Carvalho warned that the country must plan for the possibility that the unrest could continue during World Youth Day, the Catholic youth festival due to be held in Rio in late July, which the pope is due to attend.
"We have to be prepared," Carvalho said in Brasilia ahead of a meeting with organizers of the Roman Catholic event.
The mass demonstrations have overshadowed football's Confederations Cup, which Brazil is currently hosting and which is seen as a dry run for next year's World Cup tournament.
Many Brazilians are angry over the multi-billion-dollar expense of preparations for the World Cup and for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Several protests have been held outside stadiums and a mammoth march is planned at Rio's iconic Maracana stadium on June 30, the day of the Confederations Cup final.
In Rio's western district of Barra da Tijuca, television footage showed young hooligans ransacking a car dealership and looting an appliance store. Early Friday, 100 hooligans also ransacked the municipal council in Caucaia, a suburb of the northeastern city of Fortaleza, according to press reports.
The unrest expanded from anger over hikes in mass transit fares into a wider protest against corruption and inadequate public services in the world's seventh largest economy.