Brazil police, protesters clash as World Cup begins

Brazil police, protesters clash as World Cup begins

SAO PAULO - Brazilian police and protesters clashed on Thursday, hours before the opening game of the World Cup, which has been marred by construction delays and political unrest.

Police fired noise bombs to disperse a crowd of about 200 demonstrators angry about government overspending on the event. The protesters were trying to cut off a key avenue leading to the Corinthians Arena where the football match will be played on the eastern edge of Sao Paulo, a Reuters witness said.

At least one protester was arrested, local media reported. A producer for CNN was injured during the confrontation, witnesses said.

The protests were expected to grow in size before Brazil's team plays Croatia at 5 p.m. (2000 GMT).

Much of the rest of Brazil's biggest city and business capital resembled a ghost town during the usual morning rush hour after officials declared a partial holiday to ensure traffic to the stadium would be light. About 20 million people live in the metropolitan area.

Stakes will be high not just on the football field. Whether the tournament goes smoothly may also have an effect on President Dilma Rousseff's chances for re-election in October, as well as Brazil's flagging reputation among investors.

Many Brazilians are angry over the $11.3 billion spent on hosting the World Cup when basic social services are poorly financed. Their pessimism has so far overshadowed a brighter mood among the some 800,000 foreign tourists expected to come to Brazil for the event.

Melisa da Silva, who was wearing Brazil's green and yellow colors as she headed to work on the subway on Thursday, said the country might finally cheer up once play gets under way.

"Well, it's here, and I think now it's time to cheer the team," she said. "I don't see why people should still be sad."

Rousseff has dismissed complaints about the heavy spending and delays in preparing stadiums and airports, and is betting Brazil will put on a show on and off the field.

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