Party outweighs protest after Brazil Con

July 02 [Tue], 2013, 6:37
By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Small skirmishes between police and protesters did little to disrupt the festive atmosphere around the close of a major international soccer tournament that has been the backdrop for the biggest mass demonstrations to sweep Brazil in 20 years.

Police clashed with a few belligerent protesters during a small demonstration outside Rio de Janeiro's Maracan stadium late Sunday. Inside, Brazil's national team, cheered on by a thunderous hometown crowd, shut out world champions Spain 3-0.

The surprise victory marked a celebratory end to the Confederations Cup, a two-week tournament that has otherwise been overshadowed by the rapid and unexpected wave of recent discontent in Latin America's biggest country. The Confederations Cup is considered a warmup to the much-bigger World Cup, which Brazil will host next year.

Authorities deployed about 10,000 police and other security forces for the game after big demonstrations disrupted some matches during the tournament. Though uneventful marches proceeded peacefully earlier in the day, police officers fired teargas Sunday evening to disperse a small group of protesters.

At least two police officers were injured, one burned by a Molotov cocktail in the leg, the other by a blow to the head. Six protesters also suffered minor injuries, local media reported.

Sunday's tensions were the latest in a series of protests unfolding as Brazil confronts problems following a near decade-long economic boom. Brazilians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest poor public services, inflation, rising crime and a host of other ills.

The marches, which drew over 1 million protesters in more than 100 cities at their peak this month, have used the ongoing soccer tournament as a stage from which to vent their grievances. Many Brazilians are outraged that the country is spending about $14 billion to host the World Cup at a time when schools, hospitals, roads and public security are in dire need of investment.

President Dilma Rousseff, whose approval ratings have plunged since the protests began, was initially expected to attend Sunday's game - a major event in soccer-crazed Brazil. But, taking note of the discontent of voters, she decided not to attend after she was booed at the tournament opener in Brasilia.

On Saturday, polling firm Datafolha said Rousseff's approval rating sank by 27 percentage points in the last three weeks. Though the numbers fell from what had been consistently high ratings, the precipitous drop suggested that the demonstrations could pose a serious threat to her re-election bid next year.

(Additional reporting by Tatiana Ramil. Writing by Paulo Prada. Editing by Todd Benson, Christopher Wilson and Stacey Joyce)



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