Violence flares as anti-World Cup protests break out across Brazil

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Protesters and police clashed in Sao Paulo as demonstrations against the World Cup and rallies calling for improved public services erupted in several Brazilian cities.

Officers in the country’s largest city fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who set piles of rubbish alight to barricade a central avenue.

Demonstrators blasted the billions spent to host next month’s tournament and said they wanted to draw attention to what they called a lack of investment to improve poor public services. “We are beginning to gain strength to go against the injustices of the World Cup,” said Luana Gurther, a social sciences student.

“We are the ones who should decide where the public money goes. More funding for schools, hospitals, housing, transportation – not the World Cup.”

Around a thousand other mostly young protesters gathered on a main business avenue in the city of 11 million, loudly beating drums and cans and raising banners with messages such as “less money for the Cup and more for housing”.

Protesters staged a football game with dirty tactics, and one man put on a costume of a giant skeleton dressed as a Brazil player.

The demonstration turned violent when some people smashed the windows of a Hyundai car dealership and the offices of a bank. Police arrested seven people carrying Molotov cocktails

While widespread, the rallies were far smaller than the protests that engulfed the nation last year.

The demonstrations blocked two key roads into Sao Paulo during the morning rush hour.

Outside the new stadium that will host the opening match of the World Cup, about 1,500 activists fighting for more housing waved Brazilian flags as black smoke rose from burning tyres.

“Our goal is symbolic. We don’t want to destroy or damage the stadium,” said Guilherme Boulos, head of the Homeless Workers Movement, whose activists gathered at Itaquerao Stadium on the eastern outskirts of Sao Paulo.

The group claims many people have been forced out of their homes because of rising rents in the area around the new stadium.

Police blocked the main entrance next to a construction zone where cranes and other machines were lined up to carry materials still needed to finish the stadium.

As night fell, rallies were held in Rio de Janeiro, causing chaos for traffic in the centre of the city.

In the capital Brasilia, protesters carried banners reading “Fifa go home”, while in another host city, Belo Horizonte, about 2,000 people took to the streets to complain about the tournament.

In north-eastern Brazil, looters ransacked stores in the World Cup host city of Recife, where a police strike led to lawlessness. Police there entered the third day of a strike for a 50 per cent pay hike.

The authorities said they had already decided to cancel two league football matches scheduled for this weekend in the city.

“They are obviously using the proximity of the World Cup to pressure us to give into their demands,” said government press officer Manoel Guimaraes for Pernambuco state, which is home to Recife.

The demonstrations were being watched as a test of the government’s ability to maintain security during the World Cup, which will begin on June 12.