Sao Paulo violence stokes World Cup protest fears

With the opening match of the World Cup fast approaching, violence threatens to disrupt the tournament

Subway workers on strike demonstrate in Sao Paulo
(Image credit: NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

With just two days to go before the start of the World Cup, fears are growing that the tournament will be marred by violent street protests.

During the latest unrest in Sao Paulo yesterday police used tear gas to disperse striking subway workers at a central commuter station in Brazil's most populous city.

Union bosses have since suspended the strike but are warning they will ballot their members on Wednesday with the possibility of reinstating it on Thursday – the day Sao Paolo hosts Brazil and Croatia in the opening game of the tournament.

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A strike would be disastrous for the World Cup organisers as the subway is the principal mode of transport for World Cup fans, who must travel 12 miles east of Sao Paulo to reach the stadium.

Monday’s clashes involved riot police and around 100 subway workers who were striking for a fifth consecutive day over pay. They are demanding a 12.2 per cent pay rise, while the government has offered 8.7 per cent.

Assuring reporters that he had no wish to disrupt the World Cup, Altino Prazeres, president of the union leading the strike, said: "I love football. I support our national team. The point is not to stop the Cup…[but] we want to resolve this today and all are willing to negotiate."

He also threatened broader action against the government if police action against strikers was not called off.

"If the beating continues we are going to talk to all the sectors," he said. "If our people bleed we are going to ask for help from the metalworkers, from the bank workers, and have a day of general strike at the opening of the cup."

According to the Guardian, the subway protest resulted in 125 miles of traffic jams last week, and is just the latest in a string of demonstrations by Brazilian workers and activists.

Earlier in the month "indigenous protesters in the capital, Brasilia, fired arrows at police during a standoff over land rights", the paper reports.

For the moment the authorities are maintaining their hardline stance with Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin saying there is "nothing to discuss" with the union leaders.

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