Soccer-Security tight at Maracana amid protests

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 20 Thu Jun 20, 2013 8:38pm BST

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 20 (Reuters) - As a wave of protests continue to plague the Confederations Cup, security was tight around the Maracana stadium on Thursday with a heightened police presence as mass demonstrations take place in Rio.

To help maintain order after protests turned violent for the fourth night running, President Dilma Rousseff dispatched federal troops to cities hosting games during the Confederations Cup, a warmup for the soccer World Cup which also takes place in Brazil this time next year.

In Fortaleza, where Brazil beat Mexico on Wednesday, protesters crossed police lines and were pushed back by security forces with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

The atmosphere outside the Maracana however was one of tropical sunshine and smiles as unheralded Pacific Islanders Tahiti went up against world champions Spain.

The underdogs of the tournament have won the hearts of the Brazilian people.

"We are for Tahiti because they play football for fun and not professionally, and Brazil used to do that. Tahiti don't play for money, and people like that more," said one Brazilian fan in a group with T.A.H.I.T.I. written on the back of their shirts.

The nationwide protests were sparked last week by transportation fare increases, which came as Brazil struggles with annual inflation of 6.5 percent, unleashing a tide of complaints that caught authorities off guard.

Contrasting the country's high taxes with its ramshackle schools, hospitals and other government services, demonstrators have criticized the 28 billion reais ($12.9 billion) of public money being spent on preparations for the 2014 World Cup, to be played in 12 Brazilian cities. (additional reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Mark Meadows)

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