BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — At least 500 protesters complaining against the high cost of staging the World Cup rallied Saturday in front of the National Stadium in Brasilia just hours before Brazil played Japan in the opening match of the Confederations Cup.
Riot police were called up to keep demonstrators from getting too close to the stadium as thousands of fans arrived for the inaugural match in the nation’s capital.
There was no confrontation, but a few tear gas bombs were thrown by the police to try to control the protesters as they moved near the venue.
Protesters carried banners saying that too much money was being spent on the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup while the majority of the population continued to struggle.
“We are demanding more respect to the population,” said 21-year-old Vinicius de Assis, one of the protesters. “They are building these overpriced stadiums and are not worrying about the situation of their own people.”
The demonstrators also shouted against FIFA, saying that football’s governing body doesn’t have the right to make demands on the Brazilian government. “FIFA, go away,” they chanted.
The protesters said they are being excluded from the tournaments because of the high prices of match tickets.
“This is a shame, this is our money that they used for these tournaments,” said demonstrator Jaisson Peres. “Millions and millions spent and we don’t get anything in return.”
The local government said only about 200 demonstrators participated in the protest. It said in a statement that police used “progressive force” to keep the protest under control but said they would take action if needed to keep the demonstrators away from the stadium.
“Authorities will not allow any disturbance of public order or any threats against the match,” the government said. “It’s guaranteed that fans have complete access to the stadium.”
The protest came two days after police clashed with demonstrators angered by hikes in bus and subway fares in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city.
Protest organizers said more than 100 demonstrators were injured. Police would only say that 12 officers were hurt and that more than 230 people were detained and later released in the Thursday night demonstrations in Sao Paulo.
Similar protests were held Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and in Porte Alegre. The conflicts come just as the Confederations Cup football tournament opens and the nation prepares to host Pope Francis next month on his first international trip as pontiff.
Since the end of the 1964-85 military dictatorship, Brazil has witnessed few protests as violent as those in recent days. The focus of the protests is a 10-cent hike in public transport fares.
Protesters said that seemingly small increase released pent-up frustrations in a nation with a heavy tax burden yet woeful public education, health and transport systems.
Newspapers and TV images showed bloodied protesters and journalists with battered, swollen faces, a young couple being beaten by police and tear gas canisters and rubber bullets being fired into crowds. Protesters set fire to garbage bags piled in streets, broke windows and spray-painted graffiti on buildings and buses.
Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo criticized Sao Paulo police for using “extreme violence.”
“Police can never act in the arbitrary and violent fashion,” he told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.
Police Col. Reinaldo Simoes Rossi, responsible for the officers policing the protest in Sao Paulo, said force was used only after demonstrators had altered an agreed upon route they marched along, instead moving toward main avenues in an attempt to halt traffic. He also said protesters hurled stones and other objects at police.
“Brazilian police must avoid excessive use of force,” Atila Roque, director of Amnesty International’s Brazil office said in a statement. “The increasing level of violence amid these protests is deeply troubling.”
“Any excessive use of force beyond that permitted by law must be dealt with decisively by bringing those responsible to justice,” he added.
Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin and Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad have said alleged uses of excessive force by police will be investigated.
Haddad has called for talks with protesters but said he would not negotiate a reduction transport fares.
The Free Pass Movement that organized the protest in Sao Paulo said on its Facebook page that a new demonstration will be held Monday.
“They want to shut us up, separate us and weaken us. But we won’t let them. No one can deny us the right to protest until transport fares drop,” the movement said.