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Brazilians Greet The World Cup Kickoff With Protests And Tear Gas


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. It's opening day of the World Cup in Brazil. A day of revelry, competition and of protest. We'll hear more about the first match in a few minutes. But leading up to it in the streets of Sao Paulo today thousands of protesters clashed with police. Police used tear gas, concussion grenades, and truncheons against the demonstrators. Two journalists were injured in the melee. Many Brazilians are incensed the government spent $11 billion on the soccer tournament instead of health, education and housing. Earlier today, I spoke with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who witnessed the violence.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Well I am at one of the protests that are taking place here in Sao Paulo and I have to tell you it started really fast, it started really violently this morning. Protesters gathering - not very many of them initially but the police were taking no chances. They came down pretty brutally. They moved forward fast, they started throwing percussion grenades, they started throwing tear gas and two CNN journalists as you mentioned were injured in the melee. I spoke to one of the CNN journalist earlier and she told me that they were right next to the police, they were clearly identified as press, they were wearing vests and that the police actually targeted them. And that is something that we are hearing from the protesters here. That they are being deliberately targeted and they feel that this is an example of police brutality.

CORNISH: Now why the heavy crackdown? It would seem like these are precisely the scenes that Brazil didn't want, right? As they take the world stage with the games?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well Brazil promised - the government promised that they would not brook any destruction of these games and they said that they were going to act very, very seriously and very, very aggressively to quell any kind of protest here. And we've seen that being the case. I mean just here where I am now, there are helicopter swirling overhead, there are mounted policeman, there are police in riot gear. There are 157,000 security forces securing these games all over the country. They've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the security and of course one of the things that the government certainly didn't want is these images to be broadcast all over the world of Brazilians protesting and so I think the plan was to act very aggressively very early to try to disperse the protesters, but of course it had a different effect. And in fact what we've seen is the protest growing as the days been going on as it's going on.

CORNISH: And these protests have been going on for nearly a year over the World Cup. Give us some context, are there specific demands or what is it that the Brazilians who are protesting are so angered about these games.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've seen protests, we've seen strikes and a lot of these are from desperate groups who are aggrieved about a number of different things. Some are looking for their own slice of the pie. They want raises or they want better education or better healthcare. But generally speaking the people that I'm with here today, they're just against the World Cup in principle. They say that doesn't mean they don't love football, that doesn't mean they don't love the Brazil national team. But they feel that so much money has been spent on these games and they are very angry about that. And they want the world to know that and that's why they are taking on the police in the way that they are.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo. Lourdes thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.