Road blocks and marches hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup football tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June.
Less than a month before the tournament kicks off, and four months before a presidential election, Thursday’s protests will gauge the ability of demonstrators to once again rally frustrated Brazilians and the competence of police to manage unrest that occasionally escalated over the past year into violence and vandalism.
A main thoroughfare was blocked with burning tires in Brazil’s biggest city of Sao Paulo and protesters stormed a building in the capital Brasilia. Looters also took advantage of a striking military police force in the northeastern city of Recife, a World Cup venue, where security has been handed to the army until the police return.
Groups, including the Homeless Workers Movement, marched towards a World Cup stadium in Sao Paulo, site of the tournament’s kickoff, that has become a target because of families displaced by its construction.
One banner carried by demonstrators read: “The cup without the people, all to the streets again!”
In Brasilia the Homeless Workers Movement entered the headquarters of Terracap, the state company that manages the city’s 1.4 billion reais ($630 million) stadium – the country’s most expensive.
Protests are planned in up to 50 cities throughout the day, as demonstrators hope to rekindle momentum that led to millions of people hitting the streets last year during the Confederations Cup, a two-week World Cup warmup.
Last year’s demonstrations prompted President Dilma Rousseff, who faces a bid for re-election in October, to address the nation and acknowledge deficiencies in public services and investment in everything from education and health care to transportation and security.
After a near-decade of steady growth before she took office, Brazil is now struggling with a sluggish economy, persistent inflation, rising crime rates and lackluster investment.
Thursday’s protests come in a week which has already seen widespread strikes from dissatisfied labor unions across Brazil, from bus drivers in Rio de Janeiro to military police in the northeastern city of Recife.