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Rallies on Brazil independence day aim to regain protest momentum

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    People take part in a protest in front of the congress building in Brasilia on September 7, 2013. Protesters in Brazil tried to regain the energy of June's massive street protests with rallies planned in more than 100 cities on Saturday, the country's independence day -- but efforts fizzled with low turnout. (AFP)

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    Riot police clash with protestors in Brasilia on September 7, 2013. (AFP)

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    Riot police aid an injured photographer during clashes with protestors in Brasilia on September 7, 2013. (AFP)

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    Demonstrators clash with riot police near the National stadium in Brasilia on September 7, 2013. (AFP)

Protesters in Brazil tried to regain the energy of June's massive street protests with rallies planned in more than 100 cities on Saturday, the country's independence day -- but efforts fizzled with low turnout.

A couple thousand protesters marched in the capital, Brasilia, a few hundred in Rio de Janeiro, and rallies were held in several other cities with more planned throughout the day. But turnout was a tiny fraction of what was seen in June, when more than a million people took to the streets as the country hosted the football Confederations Cup.

Brazil remains in the international spotlight as it prepares to host the football World Cup next year and the summer Olympic Games in 2016. Protesters are angry at the millions being spent for the sporting events, funds they argue would be better used to improve transportation, education and health services for poor Brazilians.

Security was heightened across Brazil's cities Saturday in anticipation of the protests, especially in Brasilia, where Rousseff participated without incident in the traditional military parade.

At the end of the official parade, around 2,000 anti-corruption protesters marched to Congress and clashed with police. Police had also warned masked protesters would be detained and identified, a measure already in place in Rio aimed at discouraging vandalism.

"We want better education, political reforms and media democratization. The June protests served to push Congress to approve measures -- we have to keep them alive," a student demonstrator, Philip Leite, told AFP.

Hundreds of protesters, many wearing masks, in the capital also tried to break the police cordon surrounding the World Cup Mane Garrincha stadium, as ticketholders were entering nearly two hours before a friendly between Brazil and Australia.

Police dispersed the protesters with tear gas, while the demonstrators threw stones at the security forces and swarmed in and around the stadium, with police in pursuit.

At least 24 people were arrested, authorities said, and at least four people were injured.

In Rio, around 100 protesters, some masked, stormed onto the downtown avenue where the military was parading, shouting slogans and clashing with police. Security forces fired tear gas, prompting nearby spectators, many of them families with children, to flea the fumes.

Thirteen people were injured, according to health authorities, and police said at least 24 protesters were arrested.

Police chased several protesters who escaped through side streets, shooting rubber bullets, according to local news site G1. At least one bank branch near the demonstration was vandalized, it added.

Later, several hundred protesters continued the demonstration in the city center under heavy police surveillance.

"Education in Brazil is a disgrace and so are wages. Investment is being made in private initiatives rather than public ones," said Eduardo Marques, 25, who just graduated as a teacher.

Another protester, businesswoman Paula Cohen, 32, called for military intervention to oust President Dilma Rousseff.

Rousseff's popularity plummeted from 63 percent to 30 percent after the June protests, though she rebounded slightly, to 36 percent, in early August after an ad campaign promising more investment in public services and her decision to promote political reform.

In a speech Friday, the president said "people have every right to be outraged with what is wrong and to demand change."

But she said she would not let "a layer of gloom cover the most important fact: Brazil has advanced as usual in recent years."

Demonstrations were also held in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, and several other cities, many of them peaceful.