UPDATE 2-Nearly a million protest Brazil's president, economy, corruption
(Updates crowd estimates, adds government response)
By Paulo Prada
RIO DE JANEIRO, March 15 (Reuters) - Close to a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across Brazil on Sunday to protest a sluggish economy, rising prices and corruption - and to call for the impeachment of left-wing President Dilma Rousseff.
The protests in the continent-sized country come as Brazil struggles to overcome economic and political malaise and pick up the pieces of a boom that crumbled about the time Rousseff took office in 2011.
Rousseff, now early into her second four-year term, is unlikely to face the impeachment proceedings called for by many opponents. A fifth year of economic stagnation and a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state-run energy company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, has fueled their anger.
But for a president narrowly re-elected just five months ago, the protests are a sign of a polarized country increasingly unhappy with its leadership, especially as the hard-won gains of the recent boom begin to succumb to an economic slowdown.
The unexpectedly large demonstrations also promise to embolden opposition parties and restive allies, including the leaders of both houses of Congress, who are nominally part of Rousseff's ruling coalition, but nonetheless are hindering efforts to pass reforms intended to jump-start the economy.
In a press conference Sunday night, two members of Rousseff's cabinet recognized the rights of protesters, but downplayed the importance of the demonstrations, saying they were expressions of discontent by those defeated at the polls.
They also sought to discredit those who suggest impeachment. Miguel Rossetto, one of Rousseff's top aides, criticized what he called the "intolerance" of those opponents and likened their demands to coup efforts. Continuación...