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Rousseff praises Brazil protests, says committed to change

Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans behind a banner, which reads as 'violence', during one of many protests around Brazil's major ci
Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans behind a banner, which reads as 'violence', during one of many protests around Brazil's major ci

By Todd Benson

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday sought to defuse a massive protest movement sweeping the country, acknowledging the need for better public services and more responsive governance at all levels.

Speaking the morning after an estimated 200,000 Brazilians marched in more than a half-dozen cities nationwide, Rousseff said her government remains committed to social change and is listening attentively to the many grievances expressed at the demonstrations.

"Brazil woke up stronger today," Rousseff said in a televised speech in Brasilia. "The size of yesterday's demonstrations shows the energy of our democracy, the strength of the voice of the streets and the civility of our population."

Monday's demonstrations were the latest in a flurry of protests over the past two weeks that have tapped into widespread frustration with poor public services, police violence and government corruption.

The protests, organized mostly by snowballing social media campaigns, marked the first time that Brazilians have taken to the streets on such a large scale since economic volatility and a corruption scandal led to the toppling of a president in the early 1990s.

The unrest comes at a delicate time for Rousseff, whose administration is struggling to rein in high inflation and get the economy back on track after two years of sluggish growth. Polls show Rousseff remains widely popular, but her approval ratings began to slip in recent weeks for the first time since taking office in early 2011.

A leftist guerrilla in her youth who was jailed for conspiring against Brazil's military dictatorship, Rousseff said the sight of so many young Brazilians marching for their rights moved her.

She also said her government sympathizes with the many grievances expressed at the demonstrations, from calls for more spending on education and healthcare to better and more affordable public transportation.

"My government hears the voices clamoring for change, my government is committed to social transformation," Rousseff said. "Those who took to the streets yesterday sent a clear message to all of society, above all to political leaders at all levels of government."

Some politicians appeared to heed those calls on Tuesday, giving in to a key demand of the protest movement. Officials in the southern city of Porto Alegre and Recife in the northeast announced plans to lower bus fares.

Anger at an increase in public transport fares in Porto Alegre and other cities helped sparked the protest movement, which grew rapidly after police violently clashed with demonstrators in Sao Paulo last week.

Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad met with leaders of the protest movement on Tuesday in an attempt to ease tensions, but so far has balked at lowering bus fares. Another march is planned to take place in downtown Sao Paulo on Tuesday evening.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca; editing by Jackie Frank)

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