At least seven people were injured on Friday as Brazilian authorities ousted squatters from an abandoned building and shacks surrounding it just steps from Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana Stadium.
With the start of the World Cup only two months away, Brazil has stepped up its security efforts in the metropolis, where tens of thousands of soccer fans are to fly in for the tournament and which is to stage seven matches — including the July 13 final at Maracana.
At dawn, more than 1,600 heavily armored Brazilian police arrived at the building — which had been occupied by squatters in recent weeks — brandishing an eviction order requested by the Oi phone company, which owns the property.
Meanwhile, cranes and tractors demolished wooden huts built around the building — many of which were still full of the belongings residents had had no time to gather together and take.
Hundreds of desperate and angry residents and neighbors poured into the street protesting the loss of their new homes.
“This is what happens in the [World] Cup country,” was a repeatedly heard lament.
Dozens of furious youths threw stones and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Several buses were set on fire. Most residents were dispersed within minutes, but about a hundred protesters resisted police orders to vacate the building for several hours. Two were ultimately arrested for refusing to leave.
The newspaper O Globo also reported that suspected drug traffickers from neighboring favelas fired guns at the police.
The official tally from civil defense authorities was seven injured, none seriously, but media reports put the figure higher, at 19, of whom 12 were police.
The confusion and violence later spread to neighboring favelas, where a police car and several buses and trucks were burned, and banks and supermarkets were looted.
In all, police said they had arrested 22 people for the unrest, including 10 who did not live in the shantytown, but participated in the later destruction.
Meanwhile, police officers used pepper spray against a pedestrian, and then when witnesses protested he had not done anything to provoke the spraying, another officer pulled a gun, but fired no shots.
The shantytown emerged on March 31 when about 5,000 people who were homeless or tired of paying high rents in other slums decided to commandeer the building, which had been uninhabited for years, and the surrounding area, where they quickly built makeshift homes.