SAO PAULO, Brazil — Shaken by the biggest challenge to their authority in years, Brazil's leaders made conciliatory gestures on Tuesday to try to defuse protests engulfing the nation's cities.
But the demonstrators remained defiant, pouring into the streets by the thousands and venting their anger over political corruption, the high cost of living and huge public spending for the World Cup and the Olympics.
In a convulsion that has caught many in Brazil and beyond by surprise, waves of protesters denounced their leaders for dedicating so much of their attention and resources to cultivating Brazil's global image by building stadiums for international events, when basic services like education and health care remain woefully inadequate.
"I love soccer, but we need schools," said Evaldir Cardoso, 48, a firefighter who showed up to the protest in Sao Paulo with his 7-month-old son.
The demonstrations initially began with a fury over an increase in bus fares, but as with many other protests movements in recent years — in Tunisia, Egypt, or most recently, Turkey — they quickly evolved into a much broader condemnation of the government.
By the time politicians in several cities backed down on Tuesday and announced that they would cut or consider reducing fares, the demonstrations had already morphed into a more sweeping social protest, with marchers waving banners carrying slogans like "The people have awakened."
"It all seemed so wonderful in the Brazil oasis, and suddenly we are reliving the demonstrations of Tahrir Square in Cairo, so suddenly, without warning, without a crescendo," said Eliane Cantanhêde, a columnist for the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. "We were all caught by surprise. From paradise, we have slipped at least into limbo. What is happening in Brazil?"
The protests in Brazil are unfolding just as its long and heralded economic boom may be coming to an end. The economy has slowed to a pale shadow of its growth in recent years; inflation is high, the currency is declining sharply against the dollar.
The protests rank among the largest outpourings of dissent since the nation's military dictatorship ended in 1985. After a harsh police crackdown only fueled the demonstrators' anger, President Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla who was imprisoned under the dictatorship and has now become the target of pointed criticism herself, tried to appease dissenters by embracing their cause on Tuesday.
"These voices, which go beyond traditional mechanisms, political parties and the media itself, need to be heard," Rousseff said. "The greatness of yesterday's demonstrations were proof of the energy of our democracy."