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Protests leave few options for Brazil leader

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

SAO PAULO — With huge protests by middle-class Brazilians demanding wholesale government reforms, people all over this continent-sized country have reached a verdict on the streets and online: “The giant has awakened.”

President Dilma Rousseff has tried to placate the crowds by supporting their right to protest, and the Sao Paulo municipal government has rescinded the 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares that sparked the demonstrations in the first place. But as the protests grow even bigger, with two major marches called for Thursday, the Brazilian government appears at a loss over how to address the sweeping demands of its people.

Protesters have presented the government with myriad demands and a growing list of complaints: It can't provide its citizens with basic security, officials are corrupt and inefficient, traffic is bottlenecked on pot-holed streets, and even cellphones don't work. And the investment that should be going into health care and education are pouring into soccer stadiums and airports instead.

Rousseff's response has been little more than rhetoric. She hasn't formed any emeAnd that has further angered Brazilians such as Rosana Reis, a 51-year-old nurse who like millions in the middle class is feeling the pinch of high taxes and perennially poor public services while the country spends billions of dollars to host the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics next year.

“These politicians have money for the World Cup, money for the Olympics, but none to spend on health care or education. We've had enough. The people have woken up!” Reis said during a protest this week in Sao Paulo.

The public outcry has caught Brazil's leadership off-guard. Instead of dealing with one group with one list of demands, the government has been confronted with a spontaneous mass movement without a unified agenda.

The government is working under the immediate pressure of pacifying protesters before next month's papal visit to Rio and inner Sao Paulo state.

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