4:29 PM EDT, June 12, 2014
SAO PAULO -- Brazilian police and protesters clashed Thursday, hours before the opening game of the World Cup, which has been marred by construction delays and political unrest.
At least five people were injured during the protests in Sao Paulo on Thursday, a military police spokesman told Reuters.
The spokesman also said authorities would only be able to provide an exact number later Thursday when protests against the soccer tournament calm down.
Police fired noise bombs and teargas into a crowd of about 200 demonstrators angry about government overspending on the event. The protesters were trying to cut off a key avenue leading to the Corinthians Arena where the soccer match will be played on the eastern edge of Sao Paulo, a Reuters witness said.
At least one protester was arrested, local media reported. A producer for CNN was injured during the confrontation, witnesses said.
Much of the rest of Brazil's biggest city and business capital resembled a ghost town during the usual morning rush hour after officials declared a partial holiday to ensure traffic to the stadium would be light. About 20 million people live in the metropolitan area.
Stakes will be high not just on the soccer field. Whether the tournament goes smoothly may also have an effect on President Dilma Rousseff's chances for re-election in October, as well as Brazil's flagging reputation among investors.
Many Brazilians are angry over the $11.3 billion spent on hosting the World Cup when basic social services are poorly financed. Their pessimism has so far overshadowed a brighter mood among the some 800,000 foreign tourists expected to come to Brazil for the event.
Melisa da Silva, who was wearing Brazil's green and yellow colors as she headed to work on the subway on Thursday, said the country might finally cheer up once play gets under way.
“Well, it's here, and I think now it's time to cheer the team,” she said. “I don't see why people should still be sad.”
Rousseff has dismissed complaints about the heavy spending and delays in preparing stadiums and airports, and is betting Brazil will put on a show on and off the field.
“What I'm seeing more and more is the welcome given to the teams and the happiness of the Brazilian people with our team,” she said in a speech on Wednesday.
Brazil is widely considered the spiritual home of global soccer, and in recent days more of the flags and street parties that usually characterize World Cups here have begun to show up.
Yet the list of possible problems is long. In fact, hosting a successful tournament may ultimately prove harder for Brazil than winning it.
The main risk, for both fans and the government, appears to be violent street demonstrations.
Protests and labor strikes are planned in the 12 host cities, including a 24-hour slowdown by some airport workers in Rio de Janeiro, although the threat of a long subway strike in Sao Paulo has eased.
About a dozen disgruntled airport workers blocked a road outside Rio's international airport on Thursday morning, causing heavy traffic, local media reported.
Some businesses in Rio, the venue for seven Cup games, including the final, had boarded up windows and doors by late on Wednesday in case protests erupted.
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