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Brazilian police, protesters clash hours ahead of opening World Cup match

شعار Reuters Reuters 12/06/2014 Reuters
Police officers detain an anti-government demonstrator during a protest against the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro © Reuters Police officers detain an anti-government demonstrator during a protest against the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian police and protesters clashed on Thursday, hours before the opening game of the World Cup.

Police fired noise bombs to disperse a crowd of about 200 demonstrators angry about government overspending on the event. The protesters were trying to cut off a key avenue leading to the Corinthians Arena where the match will be played on the eastern edge of Sao Paulo, a witness said.

At least one protester was arrested, local media reported. A producer for CNN was injured during the confrontation, witnesses said.

The protests were expected to grow in size before Brazil's team plays Croatia at 5pm (0600 AEST).

Much of the rest of Brazil's biggest city and business capital resembled a ghost town during the usual morning rush hour after officials declared a partial holiday to ensure traffic to the stadium would be light. About 20 million people live in the metropolitan area.

Stakes will be high not just on the football field. Whether the tournament goes smoothly may also have an effect on President Dilma Rousseff's chances for re-election in October, as well as Brazil's flagging reputation among investors.

Many Brazilians are angry over the billlions spent on hosting the World Cup when basic social services are poorly financed. Their pessimism has so far overshadowed a brighter mood among the some 800,000 foreign tourists expected to come to Brazil for the event.

Rousseff has dismissed complaints about the heavy spending and delays in preparing stadiums and airports, and is betting Brazil will put on a show on and off the field.

"What I'm seeing more and more is the welcome given to the teams and the happiness of the Brazilian people with our team," she said in a speech on Wednesday.

The main risk, for both fans and the government, appears to be violent street demonstrations.

Protests and labour strikes are planned in the 12 host cities, including a 24-hour slowdown by some airport workers in Rio de Janeiro, although the threat of a long subway strike in Sao Paulo has eased.

About a dozen disgruntled airport workers blocked a road outside Rio's international airport on Thursday morning, causing heavy traffic, local media reported.

Some businesses in Rio, the venue for seven Cup games, including the final, had boarded up windows and doors by late on Wednesday in case protests erupted.

Rousseff is running for re-election in October, and a rough tournament would likely cause her popularity, already under pressure, to fall further. Polls show she currently holds a lead of about 10 percentage points over her likely rival if the vote goes to a second round, as most expect.

Any major logistical problems and unrest could also further dent Brazil's reputation among investors, which has suffered since a decade-long economic boom fizzled under Rousseff.

Brazil's performance in hosting the World Cup may also give clues as to how well it will do in two years, when it plays host to the Summer Olympics.

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