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Rousseff urges Brazil referendum

June 25, 2013

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a referendum on political reform after a wave of protests over poor public services and corruption. The president also promised more support for public transport.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (Photo: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Image: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

The president on Monday put forward the idea of a referendum intended to address widespread dissatisfaction with public services and corruption.

Speaking before a meeting of state governors and city mayors, Rousseff said she would push for a debate on a plebiscite over the need for a constitutional assembly to oversee political reforms.

"I mainly want to repeat that my government is listening to democratic voices. We must learn to hear the voices of the street," said the president. "At this time, I want to propose a debate on the calling of a referendum to allow a specific constitutional process to carry out the political reform that this country needs so much."

Rousseff was responding to protests, which began just over a week ago, against corruption and failing public services.

"Brazil is ready to move forward and it is already clear that the country does not want to remain in this position," she said. "We must also give priority to fighting corruption in a more forceful way."

Rousseff promised that all levels of government would focus on five priorities: fiscal responsibility, political reform, health care, public transport and education.

Help for transport

Earlier in the day, Rousseff had met members of a group - the Free Pass Movement (MPL) - campaigning for all citizens to be entitled to free public transport. She later said her government would spend an additional 50 billion reais ($23 billion, 17 billion euros) on public transport. However, solid details of how the money would be spent were not made immediately clear.

Mayara Longo Vivian, one of the leaders of the MPL who attended the meeting, said the group had been given no concrete assurances and the "fight would continue."

A hike in transport fees sparked the original protests that engulfed the entire country and led to a wider agenda for complaint. In addition to concerns about corruption and failing public services, protesters have voiced frustration with the amount of government revenue being pumped into prestige projects such as the hosting of football's 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

There were scattered protests on Monday, with two women killed after they blocked a highway in the state of Goias as part of their protest. The women were hit by a vehicle whose owner has yet to be traced by police.

Protests in Sao Paulo state blocked road access to the nation's largest port in Santos, leading to extensive traffic jams.

rc/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)