BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil has stocked up on riot gear and is ready to deploy police and military forces to contain anti-government protests expected during the 32-nation World Cup soccer championship starting next month, authorities said on Friday.
Brazilian officials believe the protests will be smaller than the massive demonstrations that unexpectedly erupted in June of last year during a warm-up event for the World Cup.
The protests by Brazilians angered by the excessive cost of building the World Cup stadiums in a developing country with deficient public services have continued this year, but they have become less spontaneous and more violent.
World soccer body FIFA is worried that a resurgence of the demonstrations could disrupt the games.
The tournament will be played in 12 Brazilian cities between June 12 to July 13 and watched by billions of TV viewers around the globe. Some 600,000 foreign fans are expected to travel to Brazil to see their teams play.
“According to the information we have, our feeling is that they will be smaller than what happened last June,” Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said of the likely street protests at a news conference.
President Dilma Rousseff is determined to guarantee safety for the World Cup. But she will be seeking re-election in five months and her government preferred to shelve plans to rush through legislation to crack down on any violent protests.
Cardozo said Brazil will not ban democratic protests, but if they threaten the soccer games, authorities are more prepared this time to deal with them. Security forces have been trained to handle riots and equipped with non-lethal weapons in case they are needed, such as tear gas and rubber bullets.
Brazilian police were criticized last year for repressing demonstrators with brutality, which fueled larger protests.
The government is spending 1.9 billion reais ($856 million) on security for the World Cup, and will deploy 100,000 police and 57,000 troops to guard stadiums, airports, hotels and borders.
“The presence of the armed forces is above all dissuasive,” Defense Minister Celso Amorim said. If troops have to use weapons, they will first use non-lethal arms, he said.
($1 = 2.2191 reais)
Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Tom Brown