Brazil's president warns protesters against violence

Story highlights

  • President Dilma Rousseff says she will meet with protest leaders
  • In a televised address, she warned she will not tolerate violence
  • Rousseff held an emergency meeting with her Cabinet

In the aftermath of more than one million people taking to the streets in anti-government demonstrations, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed Friday to talk with protest leaders but warned the government would not tolerate violence.

The warning came amid sporadic reports of looting, people breaking into public buildings and protesters setting fires during demonstrations that appeared to take the government by surprise this week.

The movement has brought together Brazilians angered by a government they say is shortchanging its duties to its citizens while spending lavishly on events such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.

"We cannot live with this violence," Rousseff said in a nationally televised address. She called on security forces to work within the framework of the country's law to prevent violence and vandalism.

Rousseff said she planned to meet with leaders of the protest movement, but did not publicly detail when or where the meetings would take place. Her remarks followed an emergency meeting with her Cabinet.

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While most of the protests have remained peaceful, there have been reports of sporadic violence that have resulted in two deaths.

On Friday, state-run Agencia Brasil reported an employee of the city of Belem, who as cleaning the streets near the mayor's office, died after being "shocked" by clashes between police and protesters.

The news agency did not say how the woman died, but reported that she suffered from hypertension and was transported to a hospital, where she died Friday morning.

Another protest-related casualty reportedly occurred Thursday in Sao Paulo state, where a young man was run over by an SUV at an intersection during a demonstration, state police said.

Even after various state governments repealed the public transportation fare hikes that spurred the discontent, more than a million people took to the streets across the country on Thursday.

Until now, the government's position was to support the protests as peaceful freedom of expression, and it is unclear whether there will be a shift as violent incidents mount and the unrest continues.

"It's a very delicate balance, and it's not very simple," Roberto Jaguaribe, Brazil's ambassador to the United Kingdom, told CNN.

The government wants to protect protesters and property, while not being overbearing with its response.

It's presumptuous, Jaguaribe said, to assume that the government understands what is taking place on the streets and the forces behind it.

Protesters say they want to see more expenditures on education and health care, changes that cannot be done quickly. The majority of marchers are young and well-educated.

"One of the problems is that the normal democratic channels that are established are not followed by these people," Jaguaribe said. "They don't feel represented adequately by these channels. They want to to create something new."

"We have to understand that and see how it goes," he said.

The mood in Sao Paulo, one of the centers of the protests, was tense Friday. Many were anxious to hear a message from Rousseff.

The protests come amid the soccer Confederations Cup tournament, a friendly array of matches, in which the host country, Brazil, plays against a small group of national teams from around the globe. The cup serves as a precursor to the World Cup.