SÃO PAULO – A string of protests against the World Cup and strikes by teachers, military police and other public workers across Brazil have brought thousands of people onto the streets on Thursday.
Protests were held in multiple locations in and around São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, where police said around 4,000 people had taken part in the early demonstrations, most of which were organised by the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) and affiliated groups.
Members of the movement are currently occupying around 90 sites around the city, including the camp known as the “The People’s Cup” accommodating an estimated 2,500 families, who marched from the camp to the nearby World Cup stadium on Thursday morning, burning tyres and blocking a major highway in front of the venue.
The threat of violence was high with Corinthians fans, whose football team owns the stadium, seen outside the World Cup venue ready to defend it in case of an attack by protesters.
“The clock is ticking; there are 28 days to resolve not only ‘The People’s Cup’ but all the occupations we are fighting for,” said Guilherme Boulos, Homeless Workers’ Movement leader. “If they are not resolved by then, there will be a problem.”
The protesters closed a number of major thoroughfares in the north, south and east of the city, causing traffic congestions during the morning rush hour.
While there were no major confrontations or vandalism reported police and riot squads maintained a visible presence at the São Paulo protests.
Other cities have already seen more violent clashes on Thursday morning.
In the capital, Brasília, a group of 500 people linked to the Homeless Workers broke into a building belonging to a government construction company responsible for the city’s World Cup stadium.
Police deployed 500 officers with pepper spray to control crowds, who were demanding government help with housing and are angry at public spending on the stadium, the most expensive of the 12 stadiums built or renovated for the football tournament.
Strikes are now affecting at least nine states and the Federal District, with walkouts called by military police, teachers, street cleaners, civil servants and other public transport workers.
The northeastern state of Pernambuco, the capital of which, Recife, is a World Cup host city, has seen shops and supermarkets looted after military police went on strike, with prison services now threatening to join the industrial action.
National army troops have been sent in to reinforce the state and contain the escalation in crime.
‘No reason to panic’
But Brazil’s Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, said on Thursday that there was “no reason whatsoever to panic” over the World Cup, which starts in 28 days’ time.
Speaking at a government committee meeting, Rebelo was quoted by the G1 news portal as saying that Brazil had done “far more difficult things than the World Cup or the Olympics.”
He promised that the upcoming tournament would “meet the high expectations of the world and Brazil” as it received “three million Brazilian tourists and 600,000 visitors from overseas.”
More protests are planned for Thursday afternoon in São Paulo, including a march by striking teachers and an event coordinated by groups calling for an International Day of Resistance against the World Cup, with simultaneous protests called around Brazil and in a handful of cities abroad.