Anti-World Cup protests erupt across Brazil

Government struggling with strikes, crime and anger less than a month before kick-off

Hundreds of demonstrators in São Paulo protest against money spent on World Cup preparations. Photograph: Andre Penner/AP

Hundreds of demonstrators in São Paulo protest against money spent on World Cup preparations. Photograph: Andre Penner/AP

Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:00

Anti-World Cup protests in 12 cities have marked the worst day in another awful week for Brazil as the government struggles with strikes, crime and public unease less than a month before the tournament kicks off.

Co-ordinated demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and elsewhere coincided with a military police strike – and spate of murders – in another World Cup host city, Recife, to add to the organisers’ headaches as hundreds of thousands of players, fans and officials prepare to fly into the country.

The events follow industrial action in Rio earlier in the week by teachers, bus drivers, museum employees and geologists, and underline longer-term concerns about public safety and transport infrastructure.


Protest
The protest of about 1,000 people in Rio was far smaller than the huge demonstrations seen in the city last year but adds to an unusually muted and emotionally complicated atmosphere in Brazil as it prepares to host its first World Cup since 1950.

Carrying banners declaring “Na Copa vai ter luta” (The Cup will have protests), appeals for a general strike and claims that the cost of refurbishing the Maracana stadium could pay for 200 schools, the demonstrators rallied with striking workers in the broadest show of dissent in several months.

Many of those present cited the proximity of the tournament and the global media attention it brings as a driver for their actions.

“The world is looking to Brazil and we are showing that the World Cup doesn’t represent us,” said Felipe Mesquita, a history student at the Fluminense Federal University. “I like football. I like the national team but we also have to think about what the World Cup means. We shouldn’t accept all the bad things that go with it such as forced relocations and the limits on rights to protest and strike.”

In São Paulo police used tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators. In Belo Horizonte about 2,000 people took to the streets. In Brasilia protesters carried banners decrying the deaths of stadium workers in the rush to finish before the tournament.

Brazil has also been hit by a wave of strikes in recent weeks. Teachers in Rio have halted classes for several days to call for better pay and working conditions. They were joined on Thursday by bus drivers, who had refused to work on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Of greater concern was a continuing strike by military police in Recife – one of Brazil’s most violent cities – which prompted many to take the day off and stay at home. Their security concerns appear to have been at least partly justified, according to reports of a spate of robberies, looting and more than two dozen killings in a day.

To allay their fears the local authorities dispatched tanks and armoured personnel carriers through the streets and cancelled two football matches scheduled for the weekend. – (Guardian service)