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Brazil police clash with anti-World Cup protesters

SAO PAULO--Protesters and police clashed in Sao Paulo Thursday, as demonstrations against the World Cup and rallies calling for improved public services erupted in several Brazilian cities.

Officers in Brazil's largest city fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who set piles of trash alight to barricade a central avenue. Demonstrators blasted the billions spent to host next month's soccer tournament and said they wanted to draw attention to what they called a lack of investment to improve poor public services.

“We are beginning to gain strength to go against the injustices of the World Cup,” said Luana Gurther, a social sciences student. “We are the ones who should decide where the public money goes. More funding for schools, hospitals, housing, transportation — not the Cup.”

Gurther and a thousand other mostly young protesters gathered on a main business avenue in the city of 11 million, loudly beating drums and cans and raising banners with messages such as “less money for the Cup and more for housing.” Protesters staged a soccer game with dirty tactics, and one man put on a costume of a giant skeleton dressed as a Brazil player.

The demonstration turned violent when some people smashed the windows of a Hyundai car dealership and the offices of a bank. Police arrested seven people carrying Molotov cocktails

While widespread, the rallies were far smaller than the protests that engulfed the nation last year and had largely ended by Thursday night.

Thursday's demonstrations blocked two key roads into Sao Paulo during the morning commute. Outside the new stadium that will host the opening match of the Cup, about 1,500 activists fighting for more housing waved Brazilian flags as black smoke rose from the flames burning tires.

“Our goal is symbolic. We don't want to destroy or damage the stadium,” said Guilherme Boulos, head of the Homeless Workers Movement, whose activists gathered at Itaquerao Stadium on the eastern outskirts of Sao Paulo. “What we want are more rights for workers to have access to housing and to show the effects the Cup has brought to the poor.”

The group claims many people have been forced out of their homes because of rising rents in the neighborhood around the new stadium.

Police blocked the main entrance next to a construction zone where cranes and other machines were lined up to carry materials still needed to finish the soccer arena.

As night fell, rallies were held in Rio de Janeiro, causing chaos for traffic in the center of the city.

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A civil police officer detains alleged looters after chaos erupted during a Military Police strike in Recife, Brazil on Thursday, May 15. Military Police in the northeastern state of Pernambuco entered the third day of a strike for a 50-percent pay hike.

(AP)

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