SÃO PAULO – Anti-World Cup protesters had barely started to gather at São Paulo’s Carrão metro station on Thursday when military and riot police began taking action against the planned demonstration.
Stun grenades and tear gas were launched with fury as about 100 protesters grouped and taunted the officers.
Brazilian protesters taunted police, branding them “cowards”, “fascists” and “afraid of democracy”. Some wore gas masks and had vinegar-soaked handkerchiefs to mitigate the effects of the tear gas, fully aware of how the military police could – and did – respond.
The stun grenades exploded close to reporters who were visibly dazed and temporarily deafened by the ordnance.
Protesters are angry that the Brazilian government has spent $14 billion on a World Cup that they say it is for foreigners, not Brazilians. The government reject this claim and has insisted that infrastructure projects spurred by the country’s holding of the World Cup are destined to improve Brazilians’ lives.
Protesters, however, say the money should instead be spent on public services, particularly healthcare and education. They have been angered further in recent days after at least 42 metro workers were told they would be sacked over industrial action held in the days leading up to the World Cup.
A widely-feared resumption of the metro strikes, to coincide with the World Cup opener, however, did not materialise.
The protest of around a hundred people, all spread out, was small even by recent standards — and the crackdown appeared to be excessive. Police fired non-lethal weapons without major provocation.
As clashes ensued, CNN producer Barbara Arvanitidis was injured as part of a stun grenade apparently hit her in the arm. The police were slow to get the CNN producer medical attention. First aid was given by reporters until a number of journalists made it clear to police that a serious injury had been sustained.
At least five protesters and two other reporters were hurt and treated by medical teams on the ground.
Thirty-one people were detained.
Meanwhile, at the Arena Corinthians, Croats and Brazilians crowded in readiness for Thursday’s first World Cup kick-off. The mood inside the stadium, not to mention the weather, is sunny.
Around 60,000 people will pack the World Cup stadium, and 1 billion are expected to watch on TV and online.