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Protests target Rio football game

More than 5,000 anti-government protesters marched near the Maracana football stadium on Sunday before a major international match, venting their anger about the billions of dollars the Brazilian government is spending on major sporting events rather than public services.

Though smaller in size, the march was the latest in a wave of protests that has spread across the country in recent weeks. Many are calling the protest movement the biggest seen here in decades, with more than one million people having taken to the streets nationwide on just the night of June 20.

The demonstrations have dwindled in size and frequency in recent days as officials from all levels of government have scrambled to calm public anger with woeful public services and a heavy tax burden.

President Dilma Rousseff has suffered the brunt of the political damage. The first national poll conducted after the protests ignited showed a steep drop in her approval rating and throws in doubt what had seemed an easy re-election next year.

Ms Rousseff decided to not attend Sunday's final match of the Confederations Cup football tournament, which saw Brazil win 3-0 against Spain in what is seen as a warm-up for next year's World Cup to be hosted in the South American country.

Other top government officials and even football legend Pele are also skipping the match in a major embarrassment for a government that had hoped to use the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio to showcase Brazil's arrival as a global power.

"People are angry with Congress, angry with the terrible hospitals and worse schools," said Tania Nobrega, a 56-year-old psychologist protesting near Maracana in Rio. "But they don't want Dilma's head. People are sick of the status quo here, and that means they're fed up not only with the (ruling Workers Party) but also with all parties."

The demonstrations began earlier this month over a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fare in Sao Paulo before morphing into a nationwide movement denouncing a range of problems such as government corruption, poor education and health care.

The sudden outrage has bewildered the country's political class, which took several days to find their footing and respond to the demonstrations, both with words and action.

Several city and state governments reversed the hike on public transportation fares that sparked the first protests, but the demonstrators had moved well beyond that issue.

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