SAO PAULO, Brazil - Shaken by the biggest challenge to their authority in years, Brazil's leaders made conciliatory gestures Tuesday to try to defuse the protests engulfing the nation's cities.
The demonstrators remained defiant, however, 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 with his 7-month-old son.
The demonstrations initially began with outrage over a hike in bus fares. But as with many other protest movements in recent years - in Tunisia, Egypt and, most recently, Turkey - they quickly evolved into a much broader condemnation of the government.
By the time politicians in several cities backed down 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 such as, "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 Catanhade, 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?"
Thousands gathered at Sao Paulo's main cathedral and made their way to the mayor's office, where a small group smashed windows and tried to break in, forcing guards to withdraw.
In Juazeiro do Norte, demonstrators cornered the mayor inside a bank for hours and called for his impeachment, while thousands of others protested teachers' salaries. In other cities, demonstrators blocked roads, barged into City Council meetings or interrupted meetings of local lawmakers, taking over the microphone, clapping loudly, sometimes wearing clown noses.
The protests rank among the largest outpourings of dissent since the nation's military dictatorship ended in 1985. After a harsh police crackdown 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 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."
Her tone stood in sharp contrast to the approach adopted by Turkey, where similar demonstrations over what might also have seemed an isolated issue - the fate of a city park in Istanbul - quickly escalated into a broad rejection of the government's legitimacy from a vocal section of the population.
But while Turkey's prime minister has dismissed the protesters as terrorists, vandals and "bums," Rousseff seemed acutely aware of the breadth of frustration in Brazil over the gap between the nation's global aspirations and the reality for many millions of its people.
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, but the expectations of Brazilians have rarely been higher, feeding broad intolerance with corruption, bad schools and other government failings.
"We're furious about what our political leaders do, their corruption," said Enderson dos Santos, 35, an office worker protesting in Sao Paulo. "I'm here to show my children that Brazil has woken up."
Some of the stadiums being built for the World Cup, scheduled for next year, have also been criticized for delays and cost overruns, and have become subjects of derision as protesters question whether they will become white elephants.
One in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon, will have capacity for 43,000, but it is in a city where average attendance at professional soccer games stands at fewer than 600 fans.