BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ended her near-silence about days of massive, violent protests, saying in a prime-time TV broadcast Friday that peaceful demonstrations were part of a strong democracy but that violence could not be tolerated. She promised to improve public services and hold a dialogue with protest leaders.

But it remained unclear exactly who could represent the massive and decentralized groups of demonstrators taking to the streets, venting anger against woeful public services despite a high tax burden.

"I'm going to meet with the leaders of the peaceful protests, I want institutions that are more transparent, more resistant to wrongdoing," Rousseff said in reference to perceptions of deep corruption in Brazilian politics, which is emerging as a focal point of the protests. "It's citizenship and not economic power that must be heard first."

Though offering no details, Rousseff said that her government would create a national plan for public transportation in cities – a hike in bus and subway fares in many cities was the original complaint of the protests. She also reiterated her backing for a plan before congress to invest all oil revenue royalties in education and a promise she made earlier to bring in foreign doctors to areas that lack physicians.

The leader, a former Marxist rebel who fought against Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime and was imprisoned for three years and tortured by the junta, pointedly referred to earlier sacrifices made to free the nation from dictatorship.

"My generation fought a lot so that the voice of the streets could be heard," Rousseff said. "Many were persecuted, tortured and many died for this. The voice of the street must be heard and respected and it can't be confused with the noise and truculence of some troublemakers."

She'd been widely criticized for being all but invisible amid the protests and failing to engage with the people who were demanding her government's attention.

Edvaldo Chaves, a 61-year-old doorman in Rio's upscale Flamengo neighborhood, said he found Friday's speech convincing.

"I thought she seemed calm and cool. Plus, because she was a guerrilla and was in exile, she talks about the issue of protests convincingly," Chaves said. "I think things are going to calm down. We'll probably keep seeing people in the streets but probably small numbers now."

But Bruna Romao, an 18-year-old store clerk in Sao Paulo, said Rousseff's words probably wouldn't have an impact.

"Brazilians are passionate," she said. "We boil over quickly but also cool down fast. But this time it's different, people are in full revolt. I don't see things calming down anytime soon."

Trying to decipher the president's reaction to the unrest had become a national guessing game, especially after some 1 million anti-government demonstrators took to the streets nationwide Thursday night to denounce everything from poor public services to the billions of dollars spent preparing for next year's World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The protests continued Friday, as about 1,000 people marched in western Rio de Janeiro city, with some looting stores and invading an enormous $250 million arts center that remains empty after several years of construction. Police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas as they were pelted with rocks. Police said some in the crowd were armed and firing at officers.

Local radio was also reporting that protesters were heading to the apartment of Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral in the posh Rio neighborhood of Ipanema.

Other protests broke out in the country's biggest city, Sao Paulo, where traffic was paralyzed but no violence reported, and in Fortaleza in the country's northeast. Demonstrators were calling for more mobilizations in 10 cities on Saturday.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops came out in favor of the protests, saying that it maintains "solidarity and support for the demonstrations, as long as they remain peaceful."

"This is a phenomenon involving the Brazilian people and the awakening of a new consciousness," church leaders said in the statement. "The protests show all of us that we cannot live in a country with so much inequality."

Rousseff had never held elected office before she became president in 2011 and remains clearly uncomfortable in the spotlight.

She's the political protege of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a charismatic ex-union leader whose tremendous popularity helped usher his former chief of staff to the country's top office. A career technocrat and trained economist, Rousseff's tough managerial style under Silva earned her the moniker "the Iron Lady," a name she has said she detests.

"The government has to respond, even if the agenda seems unclear and wide open," Marlise Matos, a political science professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said before Rousseff spoke. "What I'd like to see as a response is a call for a referendum on political reform. Let the people decide what kind of political and electoral system we have."

Brazil watchers outside the country were puzzled by the government's long silence amid the biggest protests in decades, although Peter Hakim, president emeritus at the U.S.-based Inter-American Dialogue think-tank, said he appreciated the complicated political picture, especially with protests flaring in some areas where political opponents to Rousseff hold sway.

Hakim called said that for the government the protests were "a puzzle in the midst of a huge labyrinth maze and she can't figure out the best direction to take."

Carlos Cardozo, a 62-year-old financial consultant who joined Friday's protest in Rio, said he thought the unrest could cost Rousseff next year's elections. Even as recently as last week, Rousseff had enjoyed a 74 percent approval rating in a poll by the business group the National Transport Confederation.

"People want to see real action, real decisions, and it's not this government that's capable of delivering," Cardozo said.

Social media and mass emails were buzzing with calls for a general strike next week. However, Brazil's two largest nationwide unions, the Central Workers Union and the Union Force, said they knew nothing about such an action, though they do support the protests.

A Thursday night march in Sao Paulo was the first with a strong union presence, as a drum corps led members wearing matching shirts down the city's main avenue. Many protesters have called for a movement with no ties to political parties or unions, which are widely considered corrupt here.

In the absence of such groups, the protests have largely lacked organization or even concrete demands, making a coherent government response nearly impossible. Several cities have cancelled the transit fare hikes that had originally sparked the demonstrations a week ago.

Demonstrations for Saturday have been called by a group opposing a federal bill that would limit the power of prosecutors to investigate crimes.

The one group behind the reversal of the fare hike, the Free Fare Movement, said it would not call any more protests. However, it wasn't clear what impact that might have on a movement that has moved far beyond its original complaint.

Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota hit back at protesters the morning after his modernist ministry building was attacked by an enraged crowd Thursday night. At one point, smoke had billowed from the building, while demonstrators shattered windows along its perimeter.

Standing before the ministry, Patriota told reporters he "was very angry" that protesters attacked a structure "that represents the search for understanding through dialogue." Patriota called for protesters "to convey their demands peacefully."

Most protesters have been peaceful, and crowds have taken to chanting "No violence! No violence!" when small groups have prepared to burn and smash. The more violent demonstrators have usually taken over once night has fallen.

At least one protester was killed in Sao Paulo state Thursday night when a driver apparently became enraged about being unable to travel along a street and rammed his car into demonstrators. News reports also said a 54-year-old cleaning woman had died Friday after inhaling tear gas the night before while taking cover in a restored trolley car.

The unrest is hitting the nation as it hosts the Confederations Cup soccer tournament, with tens of thousands of foreign visitors in attendance.

For some, the police response to the protests has been yet another reason to hit the streets.

"Even though I didn't see much of police violence on TV because the coverage was focused on the vandalism, I heard about it from friends and family," said 26-year-old journalist Marcela Barreto, who was marching in Rio Friday. "And I wanted to show the government it's not going to work. We're not scared."

___

Barchfield reported from Rio de Janeiro and Brooks from Sao Paulo. Associated Press writers Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Jack Chang in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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  • Demonstrators wave their country's national flag on Paulista Avenue where crowds gathered to celebrate the reversal of a fare hike on public transportation, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting of her top Cabinet members for Friday morning, more than a week after the protests began. But the protests that raged across Brazil late Thursday and into Friday were spiked with violence as people vented anger over a litany of complaints, from high taxes to corruption to rising prices. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

  • Crowds gather along Paulista Avenue to celebrate the reversal of a fare hike on public transportation after days of protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

  • Demonstrators confront Brazilian police on horseback during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

  • Lorena Dias poses for a photo holding a sign that reads in Portuguese; "I don't ride the bus, but I want respect," at an anti-government protest, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. The 15-year-old student says, "This is the time to change so much that is wrong in Brazil and it's young people who are leading the way. I see a sign of hope in this movement."(AP Photo/Marco Sibaja)

  • Demonstrators gather during an anti-government protest in front of the Brazilian National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

  • Demonstrators lie in front of a police line during an anti-government protest in front of the Brazilian National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

  • People gather behind the Candelaria church for an anti-government protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

  • People shout slogans during an anti-government demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

  • In this photo released by Agencia Brasil, police repel demonstrators trying to invade the Foreign Ministry, during an anti-government protest in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. Police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry, outside of which protesters lit a small fire. (AP Photo/Agencia Brasil, Valter Campanato)

  • In this photo released by Agencia Brasil, military police approach protestors trying to invade the Foreign Ministry, during an anti-government protest in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Agencia Brasil, Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom)

  • A police officer detains a man after finding a rock in his pocket during an anti-government demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • An anti-riot policeman throws a sound grenade to disperse a group of demonstrators near the Arena Fonte Nova soccer stadium before a Confederations Cup soccer match between Nigeria and Uruguay in Salvador, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

  • Military police detain a man during an anti-government protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

  • A demonstrator is arrested by anti riot police officers after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators march during a demonstration in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 20, 2013, during a protest of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators march during a demonstration in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 20, 2013, during a protest of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators stand next to a fire during a protest part of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. (LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Riot police officers confront demonstrators after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro as the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 is being held in the country. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A demonstrator is shot by rubber bullets as anti riot police officers charge after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A demonstrator holds a sign reading 'It's not for cents, but for rights' on June 20, 2013, in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, during a protest part of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes. (Pedro VILELA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Anti riot police officers fire rubber bullets after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Thousands of people march on June 20, 2013, in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, during a protest part of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes. (Pedro VILELA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Two demonstrators hold a comic reading 'Silveira, do not yet shoot. I guess that one on the left is your son' during a protest of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes, in Rio de Janeiro, on June 20, 2013. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators march after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro as the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 is being held in the country. (NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Brazilian national flag flutters as demonstrators hold posters during a roadblock to protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Belo Horizonte, as the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 is being held in the country. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Mounted riot police officers march along a street after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro as the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 is being held in the country. (NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators confront the riot police after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro as the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 is being held in the country. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Students shout slogans while a trash can burns during a protest of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes, at National Congress in Brasilia, on June 20, 2013. (EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Anti riot police officers ask demonstrators leave the streets after clashes erupted during a protest against corruption and price hikes, on June 20, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Demonstrators set debris on fire during a protest of what is now called the 'Tropical Spring' against corruption and price hikes, at National Congress in Brasilia, on June 20, 2013. (EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • A passer-by looks at the broken window of a bank attacked overnight by demonstrators on Presidente Vargas avenue in downtown Rio de Janeiro on June 21, 2013 early morning. (PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Protestors are reflected on the glass of a building, left, as they march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. Protests in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities, set off by a 10-cent hike in public transport fares, have clearly moved beyond that issue to tap into widespread frustration in Brazil about a heavy tax burden, politicians widely viewed as corrupt and woeful public education, health and transport systems and come as the nation hosts the Confederations Cup soccer tournament and prepares for next month's papal visit. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • A military police removes journalists from near the Rio de Janeiro state legislature, background, during a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

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  • A police officer, second from right, holds an electroshock gun as another policeman is dragged by colleagues during clashes with demonstrators outside the state legislative assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Nicolas Tanner)

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  • Protesters try to invade the state assembly during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Nicolas Tanner)

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  • Demonstrators try to enter the perimeter of the government palace during a protest against a price increase for public transportation in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

  • A demonstrator waves a Brazilian flag during a protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. Protesters massed in at least seven Brazilian cities Monday for another round of demonstrations voicing disgruntlement about life in the country, raising questions about security during big events like the current Confederations Cup and a papal visit next month. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)

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  • An injured demonstrator is helped by fellow protesters and treated by a doctor, left, who said the man was shot in the shoulder, during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 17, 2013. It was not clear who shot the man. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

  • Demonstrators gesture next to a burning barricade during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)