World Cup's First Day Marred By Protests

Riot police in Sao Paulo used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters angry over Brazil's attention to the World Cup over the needs of its people. The violence came before the first game began.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne, and this was the sound when Brazil won its first game at the opening of the World Cup.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MONTAGNE: The host of the World Cup, yesterday, won a resounding 3-to-1 victory against Croatia. It wasn't without controversy though. There was a protest on the field as Croatia argued a questionable penalty that gave Brazil the winning goal. Off the field there were protests as well, for different reasons. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was on the streets of Sao Paulo, and she filed this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Portuguese spoken).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The protest in Sao Paulo started small. A few dedicated dissenters chanting, we give up on the World Cup. We want health and education. There were more press than demonstrators, and definitely much more security than both. But within minutes of the protest starting, the police took aggressive action.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the police here, in Brazil, didn't waste any time. Things got very ugly here, very fast. There were a few dozen protesters, and the riot police started firing grenades, as you can hear, and teargas. They want these protests to be dispersed as quickly as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What followed was chaos, with two CNN journalists getting injured as well several protesters. Some of the tactics seemed plain vindictive. Britain's ITV channel captured police spraying a restrained protester in the eyes with pepper spray from just inches away. There was anger and shock among the demonstrators. Lucas Bujaro was among them.

LUCAS BUJARO: In less than, like, ten minutes, they throw bombs everywhere - everyone. Like, this movement - they don't want this to grow, you know, to get bigger.

LUIS GUSTAVO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Luis Gustavo is a student. The police started attacking, he says. The police here, in Brazil, are violent and aggressive. Brazil has a long history of police brutality. According to Amnesty International, every year, Brazil's police are responsible for some 2000 deaths. A harsh crackdown on protesters last year was the main catalyst for nationwide demonstrations that broke out. This past March, a mother of four was injured during a shootout between police and criminals in her favela in Rio de Janeiro. After being dumped in the trunk of a police vehicle, she fell out and was dragged, and she eventually died. And that is one of the reasons, among many, that Brazilians cite why they are angry about hosting the World Cup. While there weren't that many protesters out on the streets yesterday, polls show that a majority of the country are angry at the corruption and impunity here. On the street where some of the clashes took place, Kelly Fernanda Garcia Pedroso looked on from behind a metal gate in front of her home. She was wearing a Brazil shirt, and she said she was a supporter of the Brazilian team.

KELLY FERNANDA GARCIA PEDROSO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm not against the protest, she tells me, I'm against the violence. I think everyone has the right to protest, and they have to use a big event like this, watched all over the world, to draw attention, and maybe something will change, she says. Some pundits here say, and Brazilian officials hope, that a World Cup victory will erase all the bad blood in Brazil, but Pedroso says it's unlikely.

PEDROSO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, I'm not proud of the World Cup, she says. There is nothing to be proud of, in fact. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.

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