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Associated Press
Protesters return tear-gas canisters to riot police by kicking them during a demonstration in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Thursday. The demonstrators are demanding better public services and oppose the money spent on the World Cup soccer tournament, which begins today.

Police, World Cup protesters clash in Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Protesters and Brazilian police clashed in Sao Paulo on Thursday, just hours before the first World Cup match was to be played in the city.

More than 300 demonstrators gathered along a main highway leading to the stadium. Some in the crowd tried to block traffic, but police repeatedly pushed them back, firing canisters of tear gas and using stun grenades.

A few protesters suffered injuries after being hit by rubber bullets, while others were seen choking after inhaling tear gas. An Associated Press photographer was injured in the leg after a stun grenade exploded near him. CNN reported that two of its journalists also were injured.

“I’m totally against the Cup,” said protester Tameres Mota, a university student at the demonstration. “We’re in a country where the money doesn’t go to the community, and meanwhile we see all these millions spent on stadiums.”

In the crowd were anarchist adherents to the “Black Bloc” tactic of protest, a violent form of demonstration and vandalism that emerged in the 1980s in West Germany and helped shut down the 1999 World Trade Summit in Seattle.

Such Black Bloc protesters have frequently squared off against police in several Brazilian cities in the last year, as a drumbeat of anti-government demonstrations have continued since a massive wave of protests hit Brazil last year.

Meanwhile, about 300 protesters gathered in central Rio de Janeiro in another demonstration against the World Cup. By early afternoon, no clashes with police were reported there, as marchers took to the streets to denounce lavish public spending on a sports tournament in a country with profound social needs.

The demonstrations in recent months have paled in comparison those last year, when a million people took to the streets on a single night airing laments including the sorry state of Brazil’s public services, despite the heavy tax burden its citizens endure. Those protests were largely spontaneous and no single group organized them.

That’s now changed, said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. He said the recent protests have shrunk, because they are “very specific in their aims, so they are quite easy for the police to control.”

Because the recent protests have been organized by established groups, there are leaders with whom the government can negotiate. For instance, Fleischer said, in the last week the federal government persuaded a large activist group of homeless workers not to demonstrate during the World Cup.

But there will remain remnants of protests, because people who adhere to the Black Bloc movement and other “anonymous groups are difficult to negotiate with because they have no leaders to dialogue with,” Fleischer said.

Stan Lehman of the Associated Press in Sao Paulo and Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

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