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Brazil protests run gamut from health care to World Cup

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By USA Today
Sunday, June 23, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Protests continued across Brazil on Sunday, capping a week of unrest in which more than 1 million marching across the vast country demanding an end to corruption and social inequity.

More than 60,000 marched during the weekend, and a major protest is scheduled next Sunday for the final in Rio of the Confederation Cup soccer tournament, a run-up to next year's World Cup and 2016's Olympic Games, which are being held in Brazil.

What began as a protest against a 7 percent rise in bus fares has ballooned to encompass long-simmering issues such as health care, education and corruption.

“We were a million people, and we each had a different cause!” Cristal Moniz, 30, a teacher, said of Thursday's enormous demonstrations as she sat on the beach here at Copacabana.

Police, notably in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. Videos spread online of protesters being beaten by police.

The protests, Moniz said, will continue, though activists need to regroup.

“We need to stop and think about what we're doing,” she said. “We've had 500 years of problems. It's not all going to be solved overnight.”

Bus fares were lowered to previous levels in response to the protests. President Dilma Rousseff appeared on national television Friday promising to improve public transportation, health care and education.

Protests continued across the country as Rousseff spoke, although the 65-year-old former Marxist guerrilla is not generally the target of them, partly because of her history.

However, Rousseff's typically high approval ratings, which have hovered in the high 70s, are slowly falling, and she may face a challenge in the presidential election in October 2014.

“I voted for Dilma, and I believe in what she's doing,” Moniz said. “But I think there are a lot of problems. I don't know if I'll vote for her again.”

Others are more critical. Pedro Brown, 25, walking along Copacabana, said the president should be impeached. “At least people will be so shocked that the next government will respect the people,” he said.

Many protesters sported high-end cameras, smartphones and trendy apparel, suggesting a middle-class uprising.

About 35 million people have been pulled out of poverty in Brazil during the past decade, spurring a demanding middle class.

“To some extent, Brazil may be a victim of its own success,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. “The country's progress has created a growing middle class with high expectations for government performance.”

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