Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff admitted in a televised address late on Friday 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,” Rousseff said, 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,” Rousseff added, 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.”
However, 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 Ministry of Foreign affairs and several government offices.
“The government cannot stand by as people attack public property ... and bring chaos to our streets,” she said.
“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,” Rousseff said.
Meanwhile, Brazil soccer coach Luiz Felipe Scolari came to the defense of the Rousseff government on 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 toward 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,” he said.
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 soccer’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 multibillion-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.
However, the secretary-general of world soccer’s governing body FIFA insisted on Friday that the World Cup must be held next year in Brazil as planned, no matter what happens.
“The Confederations Cup is taking place in Brazil and the World Cup must be held in Brazil,” Jerome Valcke told local media ahead of a meeting with World Cup organizers.
“There is no plan B,” he added.
Earlier on Friday, FIFA said it has no plans to scrap the Confederations Cup currently under way, and that no team wants to pull out despite the huge protests.
“At no stage has FIFA considered or discussed abandoning the Confederations Cup with the local authorities,” FIFA media chief Pekka Odriozola said. “We are monitoring the situation with the authorities.”
Meanwhile, smaller protests erupted anew on Friday in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Fortaleza.
In Rio’s western district of Barra da Tijuca, television footage showed young hooligans ransacking a car dealership and looting an appliance store.
Early on 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.