FORTALEZA, Brazil // Chelsea defender David Luiz on Tuesday led his Brazil teammates in speaking out in support of mass protests in the country that have overshadowed the start of the Confederations Cup.
Some 250,000 people took to the streets of major cities on Monday (see gallery) to protest against public transport price hikes and the billions of dollars invested in major sporting events at the alleged expense of health and education.
The demonstrations are the biggest Brazil has witnessed in 20 years and come at a time when the country is desperate to prove it is prepared to host events such as the Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup.
Although the protest marches have been largely peaceful, there have been several clashes between protesters and police.
"I'm in favour of demonstrations without violence," Luiz said during a news conference prior to Brazil's match against Mexico in Fortaleza. "Citizens have a right to express their opinions and the fact they're not happy. It's a way of achieving their demands and improving the situation in the country."
Luiz left Brazil to join Portuguese giants Benfica in 2007, before signing for Chelsea four years later, but he says that matters in his homeland remain close to his heart.
"I'm Brazilian, even though I live abroad, and I always hope that Brazil will progress," he said. "The demonstrators are fighting for health and education. We need unity. We hope that we can reach a consensus and that the future will be better. Of course, we're not happy when we see the violence."
Luiz's national teammate Dani Alves, the Barcelona full-back, also gave his backing to the protesters, who are mostly young people.
On his Instagram online photo-sharing account, he posted a picture of a human eye made to resemble the yellow and green national flag, with the motto "Order and Progress" written across the pupil.
"Order and Progress without violence for a better Brazil, a peaceful Brazil, an educated, healthy, honest and happy Brazil," he wrote.
Hulk echoed his colleagues' comments but rejected the notion that the demonstrations represented a protest against the World Cup.
"Today, I have a privileged social position, but I don't forget that I come from a poor background," said the Zenit Saint Petersburg forward, who grew up in the impoverished Nordeste region, where Fortaleza is located. "They are right to protest. What they say and what they hope for is in the right direction. We have to listen to what they say.
"Brazil needs to progress in lots of areas and that's why we support them. We know they're telling the truth."
He added: "It's a triumph for Brazil to have the World Cup. There are millions of people who love football in this country."
Later, striker Fred joined the chorus of support for the protesters, writing on Twitter: "I'm totally in support of the demonstration, as long as it's democratic and peaceful.
"I'm very proud to watch the people fighting to change the standards of public transport, health, education and so many other problems."
He added: "My big concern is that the protest is legitimate, without violence, always focused on the fight for rights without losing perspective.
"Almost anything is justified for a better Brazil – except vandalism."
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said the demonstrations "do not interfere" with the squad's work and supported the players' right to express their feelings.
"The players have complete freedom to give their opinion on whatever subject, each of them assuming their own responsibilities, of course," he said. "We don't forbid anything, although you also have to take into account the interests of the national team.
"But it's important that athletes express themselves, because this separation [with the wider world] has ceased to exist."