Brazil leader remains mute amid protests

Brazilians struggled to comprehend the protests shaking their nation.

Last Updated: Jun 22, 2013, 00:51 AM IST

Brasilia: Brazilians struggled on Friday to comprehend the protests shaking their nation after 1 million anti-government demonstrators took to the streets the previous night in scores of cities, with clusters battling police and destroying swaths of storefronts and government buildings.

President Dilma Rousseff held an emergency meeting about the protests with the nation`s justice minister but didn`t make any comment afterward, continuing her largely silent response to the unrest.

Her aides said they didn`t know if she would address the nation in an attempt to calm protesters, but she was expected to meet in the afternoon with top bishops from the Catholic Church about the protests` possible effects on a papal visit still scheduled next month in Rio and Sao Paulo state.

Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil`s military dictatorship, has done little more than show brief support for the protesters since the biggest demonstrations seen here in decades began a week ago. That mute reaction has triggered furious criticism that she has let the situation spiral out of control.

There were also growing calls on social media and in mass emails for a general strike next week. However, Brazil`s two largest nationwide unions, the Central Workers Union and the Union Force, said they knew nothing about such an action.

A yesterday night protest in Sao Paulo was the first with a strong union presence, with members wearing matching shirts and a marching drum corps leading them down a main avenue. But the majority of protesters across Brazil have called for a movement with no political parties or unions, widely considering them tinged with corruption.

So far, the protests have represented an amorphous explosion of discontent over everything from high crime to poor education to the high cost of hosting the upcoming World Cup and Olympics in Brazil.

The lack of much organization or concrete demands behind the protests has made a unified government response nearly impossible. Several cities have cancelled the transit fare hikes that had originally sparked the demonstrations a week ago, but the outrage has only grown more intense.

The one group behind the reversal of the transit fare hike, the Free Fare Movement, today said it would not call any more protests. However, it wasn`t clear what impact that might have on a movement that has moved far beyond its original complaint.