RIO DE JANEIRO – Police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at anti-World Cup protesters who clashed violently with riot police at a rally near the Maracanã stadium in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, as the tournament final between Germany and Argentina was about to kick off.
As well as voicing anger over World Cup spending by the government, protesters also demanded an end to what they see as police repression and denounced the preemptive arrests of 37 protesters ahead of the rally.
The rally was held 1.2km from the stadium, and a mixture of military, riot and mounted police forces heavily outnumbered the 300 protesters present, some of whom identified themselves as from the anarchic “Black Bloc” movement.
“We don’t need a World Cup, we need better living standards, a decent government,” Eron Morais de Melo, a 33-year-old dentist from Rio, told the Anadolu Agency (AA), dressed as superhero Batman. “Some 250,000 people will have been evicted from their homes. This World Cup has been a disgrace both on and off the pitch.”
“The way they go around arresting protester is just wrong. Our government is also overpaid and inefficient. That’s why we’re protesting. We don’t have a problem with the World Cup per se, but the amount of moment invested is absurd,” Ronaldo Vasil, a 19-year-old student, said.
Protesters taunted police with accusations of lethal force used against residents of the city’s many slum areas, known as favelas, and labeled security forces “fascist” and “dictator-like.”
Although the act started peacefully, protesters had chosen at sensitive location and many vowed to march on the Maracanã, in a replay of events at last year’s Confederations Cup final.
At one point protesters set off smoke bombs next to police lines, to which security forces responded with a hail of stun grenades, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
At least five people were injured, some by grenade shards, including Canadian journalist Jason O’Hara. Many protesters could be seen struggling from the effects of pepper spray and tear gas. As the protest regrouped on its initial square, mounted police charged crowds with long batons.
Anadolu correspondents at the scene witnessed at least two of the six detentions that police later confirmed, as well as seeing one policeman lunge at a protester and rip off his mask.
Despite the bravado, there was never any chance for the protesters to get near the stadium. Rio’s security detail of over 25,000 police, troops and other personnel during the World Cup final is the biggest in the country’s history, with 11,000 allocated in and around the stadium.
As well as 79,000 fans inside the stadium, the game was also attended by heads of state including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was also present to award the World Cup trophy.