Brazil faced a test of its security preparations for the World Cup on Thursday as demonstrators aghast at the cost of the event joined protests and strikes in several major cities.
Ongoing work stoppages by police and teachers and the threat of a nationwide strike by federal police also raised fears of chaos with just four weeks to go before the Cup kicks off.
In business hub Sao Paulo, about 5,000 members of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) set fire to car tyres and marched to the Corinthians Arena, which will host the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12.
Although most demonstrations were peaceful, police used teargas against group of masked demonstrators in Sao Paulo as tensions rose there around 7:00 pm (local time). Other demonstrations took place in Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Porto Alegre and Rio.
In the northeastern city of Recife, youths earlier took advantage of a partial strike by military police to loot stores and go on the rampage.
After blocking off several streets, Sao Paulo protesters held a rally about 300 metres from the stadium as they slammed a “World Cup without the people.”
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, at the forefront of efforts to win the country’s hosting rights seven years ago, criticised the “virulent” protests.
The attacks against this event are becoming ever more sectarian and irrational,” Lula told Spanish daily El Pais, seeing a political dimension to the protests with general elections due in October.
Many protesters vented their ire against world football body Fifa, viewed by many as only concerned with its own interests.
“Fifa go home to Switzerland,” “total tax exemption for Fifa and (Cup) sponsors,” “Cup of disgrace” and “Hey, Fifa, pay my fare” were some banners directed at the organisation.