SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A popular backlash against Brazil's nationwide protests took hold on Friday after widespread rioting overnight, as even the leftist group at the movement's core said it was done organizing marches for now because of growing discord and violence.
President Dilma Rousseff was meeting with top aides on Friday morning to figure out how to respond after more than 1 million Brazilians in over 100 cities took to the streets.
The protests blossomed over the past week, catching Rousseff and other politicians off guard as Brazilians vented anger over issues from corruption and poor public transport to billions of dollars being spent to host the soccer World Cup next year.
The marches have contributed to a selloff in Brazilian financial markets and deeply embarrassed the country as it hosts the Confederations Cup, a warm-up tournament for the World Cup taking place in several cities hit by the protests. TV images have shown terrified fans and tourists running past clashes between police and demonstrators to get to stadiums.
World soccer body FIFA said on Friday it condemned the violence, but had not considered cancelling the tournament.
Most of the demonstrators have been peaceful. But social media buzzed on Friday with condemnations of violence after widespread scenes of masked youths looting stores, setting fires and defacing buildings including the foreign ministry in Brasilia, which had its windows smashed.
The Free Fare Movement in Sao Paulo, an activist group that was instrumental in the rise of the protests, said it would stop organizing new demonstrations for now after street fights broke out among some protesters with different objectives and political views on Thursday.
Douglas Belome, a bank teller and member of the Free Fare group, said things turned ugly when some protesters sought to prevent left-wing political parties from waving their flags.
"At least for now, there are no new demonstrations scheduled," he told Reuters, expressing regret for the violence.
The group's decision will not totally halt the protests, since the movement has taken on a life of its own on social media and grown to include a wide range of grievances and groups. Other, smaller protests were still scheduled for Friday around Brazil.
Unlike previous demonstrations, much of the violence on Thursday was generated by the protesters themselves, rather than a heavy-handed police response.
Dozens were injured across the country on Thursday night, including 62 people in Rio de Janeiro, according to city officials. One person was killed in the interior of Sao Paulo state after someone drove a car into a group of protesters.
"I support these (protests), but I think it's out of control," said Nilson Chabat, a 31-year-old gas station attendant on his way to work on Friday in Sao Paulo. "Many of us are angry but you can't just go make a mess every day."
FRUSTRATION WITH STATUS QUO
The sudden unrest, which started on June 13 when police cracked down on a small demonstration over rising bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo organized by the Free Fare Movement, has shocked a country that until recently was considered a successful emerging-market power on the rise.
Polls show that most Brazilians remain happy with Rousseff and with an economy that has slowed recently but has still been able to keep unemployment at record lows. Unlike recent youth protesters in the Arab world, the demonstrators are not trying to bring down the government, and Brazil's robust democracy appears able to address some of their complaints.
Yet the protests have revealed clear frustration with the status quo. Brazil has some of Latin America's highest taxes but one of the lowest rates of public investment, leaving many Brazilians frustrated with subpar schools, hospitals, infrastructure and police forces.
It's unclear what Rousseff can do in the short term, apart from making a general appeal for calm. Mayors of several cities already tried to yield to one of the protesters' main demands this week by rolling back a recent hike in bus and subway fares, but the demonstrations only grew.
Rousseff, a leftist guerrilla in the 1970s, has expressed solidarity with the protesters' aims and has appeared hesitant to order a crackdown that could just make the crowds even angrier.
But she is also at risk of having her probable re-election bid next year complicated by both the growing unrest and the backlash against the scenes of violence.
Some think she is already tardy in her response.
Fernando Rodrigues, a columnist for Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, wrote that Rousseff's silence on Thursday night "sums up the lack of action by politicians."
"They seem, in essence, to be only rooting for the tsunami to pass," he said.
(Reporting by Brian Winter and Silvio Cascione; Editing by Todd Benson and Eric Beech)
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