Rousseff mulls response to mass Brazil protests
Government says it is 'listening to the protesters' and wants 'more input from the population.'

President Dilma Rousseff met with her vice president and senior ministers Monday to mull a response to Sunday's mass anti-government protests.

Speaking to reporters after Monday's meeting, Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said the government wanted more input from the population. "The government is entirely open to dialogue ... with all social movements. And it does not matter whether these movements are supportive of the government or opponents. The government is listening to the protesters," Cardozo said.

Rallies in more than 50 cities demanded Rouseff be impeached. Police said a million protesters had gathered on São Paulo's Avenida Paulista, while others put the crowds at 210,000.

Rousseff had kept out of the public eye Sunday, but broached the issue of the protests, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of the country's redemocratization, in a speech Monday where she defended the right to demonstrate as a part of the Brazil's democracy.

"In a democracy we respect the ballot boxes ... we respect everyone's voice. When I saw hundreds of thousands of people protesting, I could not help but think how it was worth fighting for our freedom," Rousseff said in a press conference in Brasília, indirectly addressing protesters calls for her impeachment, and praising the peaceful nature of the rallies. Rousseff was jailed and tortured during the country's 21-year military dictatorship.

Tens of thousands of the president's supporters and allies gathered Friday in nationwide rallies.

The president reiterated comments made by Cardozo as Sunday's protests were petering out, in which he said "in the coming days" the government would announce a new series of measures to tackle corruption -- reviving pledges made in the light of huge anti-government protests in 2013.

Sunday's protests centered on demands for impeachment which have gained traction since an investigation was authorized by the Supreme Court into 54 individuals -- including dozens of acting and former senior politicians, almost all from Rousseff's ruling multiparty coalition -- for their alleged role in a vast kickback scheme at state-run oil giant Petrobras.

Operation Lava Jato, or Car Wash, entered a new phase Monday, with new arrests and search warrants issued.

Prosecutors accused 27 individuals on Monday of crimes including criminal association, corruption, money laundering and fraud. They include former Petrobras director Renato de Souza Duque and João Vaccari Neto, treasurer of Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party (PT).

Angered by the relevations of vast corruption at Petrobras, protesters at Sunday's rallies also bemoaned the state of the Brazilian economy.

The government's economic team, led by Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, has already announced fiscal adjustments, including tax increases and cuts to public spending, in order to kickstart the economy. Speaking on Monday, Levy urged the country to be "brave" during the austerity measures.

"First, we must get the public finances in order. We have others things we can do, and we will succeed," he said.

The latest central bank survey of dozens of economists, released Monday, predicted Brazil's GDP would now shrink by 0.78 percent in 2015, and annual inflation would reach 7.93 percent this year -- above the government's 6.5 percent upper limit.

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Last Modified: 2015-03-17 09:53:13
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