RIO DE JANEIRO – Police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse around 3,000 protestors from outside Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium ahead of the Confederations Cup match between Italy and Mexico on Sunday.
The demonstrators were attempting to enter the stadium in protest at the vast sums of money spent on the organisation of the tournament and next year’s World Cup, which Brazil is also hosting.
“I don’t care about the World Cup — I want health and education!” chanted protestors, as witnessed by an AFP journalist.
The demonstrators, mainly young, and many of whom wore the Brazilian flag, left the scene quickly after being prevented from accessing the freshly renovated arena.
“Brazilian democracy is still very young and they don’t let us protest,” complained Fabio Gomes, a 33-year-old event producer, as he rubbed eyes irritated by the tear gas.
Police said there were 3,000 protestors, but that their number could have swelled to 5,000 as people continued to arrive at the scene.
The demonstrators started to mingle with supporters arriving for the Group A clash between Mexico and Italy, which was the first game in the tournament to be staged in Rio.
A strong police line, reinforced with riot police, initially held protestors back — only letting through supporters who displayed tickets — before charging.
Prior to Saturday’s opening game between Brazil and Japan in Brasilia, police broke up a similar protest with tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in 33 injuries and 20 arrests.
The start of the competition has been marked by protests over the huge cost of preparations to host the World Cup, which is expected to reach $15 million (11 billion euros).
Meanwhile, Brazilian media lashed out on Sunday at what they saw as an excessive police response to protesters ahead of Saturday’s match in Brasilia.
“Fiesta inside (the stadium) … war outside,” was how Jornal de Brasilia daily headlined its coverage in juxtaposing that of the match with that of the protests.