Demonstrators and police clashed in Sao Paulo on Saturday during the first in a planned series of anti-World Cup protests across Brazil called by radical activist group Anonymous.
With less than five months before the June 12 kick-off — when the five-time champions and hosts take on Croatia — Brazil is facing the same kind of social rumblings that marred last year’s Confederations Cup dress rehearsal.
Anonymous called for protests against soccer’s fabled event via its Facebook page under the slogan “The Cup will not take place.”
Other activists said: “FIFA go home” on Twitter, referring to soccer’s world governing body, which was likely watching the weekend’s events with some concern.
Brazilians are avid users of social media, a favored tool to organize protests, but turnout was modest.
In the country’s sprawling industrial and financial hub of Sao Paulo, about 2,500 people demonstrated near the Art Museum and on the key Avenida Paulista, chanting and waving signs like “Wake up Brazil, a teacher is worth more than [soccer player] Neymar.”
Demonstrators and police clashed, with protesters burning tires and garbage, and some engaging in vandalism targeting banks and other businesses.
Sao Paulo military police said they arrested 128 people. Rio de Janeiro — where huge demonstrations turned violent in July last year — rallied just about 200 to a demonstration on landmark Copacabana Beach. The capital, Brasilia, and the central city of Goiania each saw small demonstrations of fewer than 100, local media reported.
Anonymous, which has staged a number of highly publicized stunts in different countries, vowed that the protests planned for 36 cities across Brazil — a nation of 200 million — would “be followed by others.”
Many in soccer-mad Brazil say they are not against the World Cup as such — their country of 200 million is the most successful nation in the tournament’s 84-year history.
However, they are outraged to see hundreds of millions of dollars spent on preparing 12 host cities for the sports jamboree when poor infrastructure and areas such as health and education require urgent massive investment.
Brazil has been hit in recent weeks by fresh unrest of a different kind, with rolezinhos flash mobs composed primarily of young people from slum areas swooping on shopping malls in swanky districts of Rio and Sao Paulo.
Authorities have slapped bans on the practice in a bid to stamp out the craze.
Meanwhile, the civil aviation authority’s chief, Wellington Moreira Franco, complained after an inspection of host cities’ airports that contractors were behind on many facility upgrades ahead of the event, particularly Fortaleza airport’s expansion.