Brazil police clash with anti-World Cup protesters

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Brazil police clash with anti-World Cup protesters
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - MAY 15: A masked demonstrator burns World Cup memorabilia at a protest against the upcoming 2014 World Cup on May 15, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Anti-World Cup demonstrations were held across the country today. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A security guard keeps watch at the subway as demonstrators taking part in the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 protest in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO /Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - MAY 15, 2014: Black Bloc protesters Group clash with policemen during a protest against the World Cup on the evening of Thursday, May 15, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Protests are taking place in various cities of the country and questioned the high spending on construction of stadiums and fight for better conditions and budget for health and education. (Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
Policemen arrest demonstrators during the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - MAY 15, 2014: Black Bloc protesters Group clash with policemen during a protest against the World Cup on the evening of Thursday, May 15, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Protests are taking place in various cities of the country and questioned the high spending on construction of stadiums and fight for better conditions and budget for health and education. (Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
Riot police take position during a protest against money spent on the World Cup preparations in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Protesters and police clashed Thursday, as demonstrations against the World Cup and rallies calling for improved public services erupted in several Brazilian cities.(AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A member of the Homeless Workers Movement carries a Brazilian flag past burning tires during a protest against the money spent on the World Cup near Itaquerao stadium which will host the international soccer tournament's first match in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Brazilians are angry at the billions spent to host the World Cup, much of it on 12 ornate football stadiums, one-third of which critics say will see little use after the big event. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Members of the Homeless Workers Movement protest against money spent on the World Cup near Itaquerao stadium which will host the international soccer tournament's first match in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, May 15, 2014. Brazilians are angry at the billions spent to host the World Cup, much of it on 12 ornate football stadiums, one-third of which critics say will see little use after the big event. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
FILE - In this June 17, 2013, file photo, a demonstrator holds a Brazilian flag in front of a burning barricade during a protest in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil. In a poll last year, more than three-fourths of Brazilians said they’re certain corruption has infused the World Cup. Their anger fueled widespread and often violent anti-government protests last June that sent more than 1 million Brazilians into the street during FIFA’s Confederations Cup soccer tournament. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
A protester damages a car after breaking a shop's window during the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
Policemen search for demonstrators during the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
People take part in the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' protest against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 along the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A line of riot police block the passage to demonstrators taking part in the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' protest against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 along the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man dressed as Batman protests against the upcoming WC2014 FIFA tournament in Rio de Janeiro on May 15, 2014. Brazil faced a test of its security preparations for the World Cup on Thursday as demonstrators disgusted at the tournament's price tag called widespread protests. Ongoing strikes by police and teachers and the threat of a nationwide strike by federal police also raised fears of chaos with four weeks to go until football's biggest global spectacle. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)
People take part in the 'International Day of World Cup Resistance' protest against the upcoming FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 along the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL SHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Adriana Gomez

SAO PAULO (AP) - 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.

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.

Anti World Cup Protests in Brazil

"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.

In the capital Brasilia, protesters carried banners reading "FIFA Go Home," while in another Cup host city Belo Horizonte, about 2,000 people took to the streets to complain of the soccer tournament.

In northeastern Brazil, looters ransacked stores in the World Cup host city of Recife, where a police strike led to lawlessness. Police there entered the third day of a strike for a 50 percent pay hike. Authorities said they'd already decided to cancel two professional league soccer matches slated for this weekend in the city.

"They are obviously using the proximity of the World Cup to pressure us to give into their demands," government press officer Manoel Guimaraes for the state of Pernambusco, home to Recife.

Recife will host five World Cup matches, starting on June 14.

The demonstrations Thursday were being watched as a test of the government's ability to maintain security during the World Cup.

Huge anti-government protests across Brazil last year overshadowed the Confederations Cup, a warm-up tournament for the World Cup.

Many Brazilians are angry at the billions spent to host the World Cup. Protesters have said the government should focus spending instead on improving Brazil's woeful health, education, security and infrastructure systems.

Brazilian leaders had hoped the World Cup and then the 2016 Olympics in Rio would put a favorable spotlight on the country, showing advances over the past decade in improving its economy and pulling tens of millions out of poverty.

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