Police fire tear gas at protest outside World Cup match

RIO DE JANEIRO- Police in Brazil fired tear gas Saturday to break up hundreds of protesters outside Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium, where Colombia and Uruguay were playing a World Cup knock-out-stage match.

About 350 anti-World Cup protesters marched toward the Maracana closely guarded by about 250 police, who fired tear gas to disperse them just as they came within sight of the stadium.

An AFP correspondent saw police detain at least three demonstrators and frog march them away from the crowd.

Mass protests erupted just over a year ago in Brazil, at first drawing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to condemn the record $11 billion (S$13.75 billion) spent on the World Cup and shoddy schools, hospitals and public transport.

But recent demonstrations have been far smaller, with many Brazilians more interested in football or frightened by the violent tactics of hardcore protesters such as the anarchist Black Bloc movement.

Police charged a group of protesters wearing the Black Bloc's trademark black masks Saturday, breaking the demonstration into several smaller groups.

A police motorcycle unit backed by some 30 police cars then chased the main group back to their starting point, about a kilometer (half-mile) from the stadium.

Demonstrators chanted "Fascists!" at riot police as they cracked down on the protest.

"This isn't going to end with the World Cup. Even if Brazil wins the Cup it's not going to improve anything for poor people, for those living in the favelas, for the dispossessed," said protester Pablo Rodriguez, 31.

As most of the country decked itself out in green and yellow to support the national team in its match against Chile - which the hosts won on penalty kicks to advance to the quarter-finals - a protester from the Tupi indigenous group vowed not to cheer for Brazil.

"I don't care if they win the Cup or not, it won't change anything," the 53-year-old told AFP. "This Cup is not for Brazil, it's for FIFA. The political elite and FIFA are manipulating the people."

The protest had mostly dispersed by the end of the match, which Colombia won 2-0.