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Scattered, smaller protests continue in dozens of Brazilian cities

Demonstrators march during a protest in Salvador, June 22, 2013. REUTERS/Valter Pontes
Demonstrators march during a protest in Salvador, June 22, 2013. REUTERS/Valter Pontes

By Pedro Fonseca and Sergio Moraes

SALVADOR/BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (Reuters) - Scattered protests took place in dozens of Brazilian cities on Saturday, although fewer people took to the streets in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, where vandalism and clashes with police have rocked the country in recent days.

Demonstrators, a mainstay outside stadiums as Brazil hosts an international soccer tournament, largely steered clear of a Brazil-Italy match in the northeastern city of Salvador - a relief for fans who have had to dodge clashes between protesters and police at several games over the past week.

But tensions flared outside another game between Mexico and Japan in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte, where riot police fired tear gas at protesters after they overstepped a perimeter and moved toward the stadium. The game proceeded without further incidents.

Other gatherings around the country unfolded mostly peacefully, with an estimated 30,000 protesters marching on Sao Paulo's main avenue against a bill in Congress that would limit the power of public prosecutors to investigate corruption and other crimes.

In the capital, Brasilia, about 4,000 people joined what they called a "sluts' parade" for women's rights, while a smaller group gathered to protest against the use of taxpayer money to build stadiums for next year's soccer World Cup, which Brazil will host.

The protests that swept Brazil over the past week have seemingly come out of nowhere, with more than a million people taking to the streets on Thursday to air a wide range of grievances, from poor public transport and hospitals to corruption and shoddy, underfunded schools.

The demonstrations, the biggest in Brazil in two decades, have attracted a mostly younger crowd of students and a middle class fed up with politics as usual. Many of the marches have been non-violent, often carnival-like events, though some have been marred by vandalism and looting, fueling a backlash among many Brazilians.

The protests have become a major headache for Brazilian politicians, including President Dilma Rousseff. In a televised address on Friday night, Rousseff expressed support for the protests while pledging to curb violence and looting. She also appealed for Brazilians to be "generous hosts" to the hundreds of thousands of tourists expected for the World Cup.

SIGNS OF FATIGUE

Rousseff, herself a former leftist guerrilla who was jailed in her youth for conspiring against Brazil's military dictatorship, also sought to address public outrage against taxpayers' money being spent on stadiums instead of hospitals and schools, vowing that every cent would be repaid over time.

That didn't stop an estimated 66,000 people from marching through the streets of Belo Horizonte against the World Cup on Saturday. Other demonstrations were smaller, perhaps in a sign of what some here have described as protest fatigue after a week of relentless marches that have made daily life in Brazilian cities a logistical nightmare.

The protests began two weeks ago with small but disruptive marches in a handful of cities against an increase in bus and subway fares. After a heavy-handed police response in Sao Paulo brought more Brazilians into the streets, the protests embraced a litany of causes, including a so-called "gay cure" bill that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as a disorder.

In Rio de Janeiro, where some 300,000 people marched on Thursday in the city's largest demonstration yet, only a handful of protesters gathered on Saturday. Some were outside the residence of state governor Sergio Cabral in the upscale, beachfront neighborhood of Leblon.

Some protesters clashed with police in Salvador on Saturday, but the incidents took place some distance from the arena where Brazil's national soccer team defeated Italy 4-2 in front of a capacity crowd in a Confederations Cup game.

"Today it's only happiness, no violence," said Geovani dos Santos, a lawyer who attended the game with his wife and daughter. "The soccer team is a source of pride."

(Writing by Walter Brandimarte and Todd Benson; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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