By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA, June 13 (Reuters) - A defiant President Dilma Rousseff shot back at her detractors on Friday, saying she will not be cowered by the jeers and insults she endured at the World Cup's opening match.
Visibly angered by the rude welcome, the Brazilian leader said the "verbal aggression" was nothing compared with the physical abuse she withstood four decades ago when she was tortured at the hands of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil at the time.
Many of the 62,100 soccer fans packed into the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo to watch Brazil play Croatia on Thursday booed loudly and chanted profanities at Rousseff, whose popularity is falling four months ahead of a re-election bid.
"Insults will not intimidate me. I will not be cowered," Rousseff said in a speech to inaugurate the opening of a rapid transit bus system in Brasilia.
"This will not weaken me," Rousseff said, as supporters of her Workers' Party chanted calls for a second term for the leftist leader.
Recent polls show Rousseff losing her comfortable lead ahead of the Oct. 5 election among voters concerned with the weakening of the Brazilian economy and the rising cost of living under her administration.
Many Brazilians are angry about the high cost of the stadiums built to host the World Cup. They say the $11 billion Brazil is spending on the sporting event should have gone to improve deficient health, education and public transport.
Rousseff was also booed last June at the opening game of the Confederations Cup, a warm-up tournament for the World Cup.
To avoid another embarrassment, Rousseff opted not to make the customary head of state speech opening the World Cup this year. But when her name and that of FIFA President Sepp Blatter were announced, spectators jeered and chanted obscenities at them.
Blatter rose from his seat. Rousseff remained seated.
The jeers made front-page headlines, though Brazilian media widely criticized the fans for using foul language.
"I will not let myself get upset by insults that cannot even be heard by children or families," Rousseff said.
Rousseff shrugged off the verbal aggression as nothing compared with the "almost unbearable" physical abuse she suffered as a prisoner of the military dictatorship in the 1970s, when she was tortured for belonging to a militant leftist group.
Anti-World Cup protests flared up on Thursday in many of the 12 cities that will host the games, but they were much smaller than massive demonstrations a year ago, when 1 million Brazilians took to the streets.
Most Brazilians were more interested in staying home to watch their team defeat Croatia 3-1 as Brazil seeks to win the World Cup for a record sixth time. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Steve Orofsky)