FIFA World Cup: Protesters strike just hours before kickoff

A masked man throws a stone towards riot policemen during a protest by people against the money spent on the World Cup soccer tournament, just hours before kickoff. Photo / AP
A masked man throws a stone towards riot policemen during a protest by people against the money spent on the World Cup soccer tournament, just hours before kickoff. Photo / AP

Protesters and Brazilian police clashed in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, just hours before the first World Cup match.

More than 300 demonstrators gathered along a main highway leading to the stadium in Sao Paulo. Some tried to block traffic, but police repeatedly pushed them back, firing canisters of tear gas and using stun grenades.

The flow of traffic to the arena was not blocked.

A few protesters suffered injuries after being hit by rubber bullets, while others were seen choking after inhaling tear gas. An Associated Press photographer was injured in the leg after a stun grenade exploded near him. CNN reported on its website that two of its journalists were also injured.

"I'm totally against the Cup," said protester Tameres Mota, a university student at the Sao Paulo demonstration.

"We're in a country where the money doesn't go to the community, and meanwhile we see all these millions spent on stadiums."

In the crowd were anarchist adherents to the "Black Bloc" tactic of protest, a violent form of demonstration and vandalism that emerged in the 1980s in West Germany and helped shut down the 1999 World Trade Summit in Seattle.

Such Black Bloc protesters have frequently squared off against police in several Brazilian cities in the past year, as a drumbeat of anti-government demonstrations have continued since a massive wave of protests hit Brazil last year.

Meanwhile, about 300 protesters gathered in central Rio de Janeiro in another demonstration against the World Cup. Police started using tear gas and took a few protesters there into custody, as marchers took to streets to denounce lavish public spending on a sports tournament in a nation with profound social needs.

The demonstrations in recent months have paled in comparison those last year, when a million people took to the streets on a single night airing laments including the sorry state of Brazil's public services despite the heavy tax burden its citizens endure. Those protests were largely spontaneous and no single group organized them.

That's now changed, said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. He said the recent protests have shrunk, because they are "very specific in their aims, so they are quite easy for the police to control."

Because the recent protests have been organized by established groups, there are leaders with whom the government can negotiate. For instance, Fleischer said, in the past week the federal government convinced a large activist group of homeless workers to not demonstrate during Cup.

But there will remain remnants of protests because people who adhere to the Black Bloc movement and other "anonymous groups are difficult to negotiate with because they have no leaders to dialogue with," Fleischer said.

- AP

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