Brazilians protest World Cup spending, call for better services

Thu May 15, 2014 5:40pm EDT
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SAO PAULO/RIO DEIRO (Reuters) - Road blocks and marches hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June.

Less than a month before the tournament kicks off, and four months before a presidential election, Thursday's protests will gauge the ability of demonstrators to once again rally frustrated Brazilians and the competence of police to manage unrest that occasionally escalated over the past year into violence and vandalism.

A main thoroughfare was blocked with burning tires in Brazil's biggest city of Sao Paulo and protesters stormed a building in the capital Brasilia. Marchers in Rio de Janeiro blocked traffic on the two main streets in the city center.

Looters took advantage of a three-day police strike in the northeastern city of Recife, a World Cup venue. Supermarkets, shops and vehicles were ransacked. The army and units of a special national gendarmerie have been called in to keep order.

Groups, including the Homeless Workers Movement, marched towards a World Cup stadium in Sao Paulo, site of the tournament's June 12 kickoff, that has become a target because of families displaced by its construction.

One banner carried by demonstrators read: "The cup without the people, all to the streets again!"

In Brasilia the Homeless Workers Movement entered the headquarters of Terracap, the state company that manages the city's 1.4-billion-real ($630 million) stadium - the country's most expensive.

Protests are planned in up to 50 cities throughout the day, as demonstrators hope to rekindle momentum that led to millions of people hitting the streets last year during the Confederations Cup, a two-week World Cup warmup.

Last year's demonstrations prompted President Dilma Rousseff, who faces a bid for re-election in October, to address the nation and acknowledge deficiencies in public services and investment in everything from education and health care to transportation and security.   Continued...

A boy holds up a banner as children sit at what is meant to represent a public school classroom, during a protest against the 2014 World Cup, organised by non-governmental organisation (NGO) Rio de Paz (Rio of Peace) at the Jacarezinho slum in Rio de Janeiro May 14, 2014.  REUTERS/Sergio Moraes