Hundreds of arrests in Brazil World Cup spending protest

SAO PAULO - Brazilian police fired tear gas and arrested hundreds on Saturday as they dispersed a crowd in Sao Paulo that violently protested expenditures for the World Cup tournament.

About 1,000 protesters took to the streets in what was initially a peaceful expression of anger over the $11 billion (eight billion euros) Brazil is spending to host the Cup, the world's premier football event.

Protesters then went on a rampage, smashing bank windows and setting up roadblocks with garbage set on fire.

The unrest comes four months before the World Cup opening game is played in the city's Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12.

As of midnight, military police in Sao Paulo reported 230 arrests in a Twitter message. Among those arrested were five journalists, the O Estado de Sao Paulo daily reported.

At least five police officers and two protesters were injured, police said.

Recent protests have drawn far fewer people than those which marred the Confederations Cup in mid-2013, but this year's marches have included a more radical element and raise questions about the police's ability to control violence during the World Cup.

"There will be no Cup!" and "Cup for the rich, scraps for the poor!" chanted the protesters, led by anarchists of the Black Bloc group dressed in black and with covered faces.

Several protesters told AFP that the clash began when police refused to let them continue marching.

Police responded by firing stun grenades, then tear gas to break up the crowd.

Some demonstrators accused the police of heavy-handedness. "Not even a window had been broken when the police started attacking everybody," said a man who claimed to speak for the protesters.

"I came to protest against the World Cup," said Fernanda Moreira, 19. "They spent millions on stadiums and have given us nothing for health or education," she told AFP.

"The government is trying to make believe that Brazil is all cheer and carnival, but it's not like that. This is a very unequal country," added Lucas Souza, also 19.

A February 6 protest in Rio de Janeiro ended tragically with the death of a television cameraman, killed when he was struck in the head by a flare.

Last year's demonstrations started off in Sao Paulo in response to transport fare hikes but quickly spread, drawing more than a million people into the streets with anger over expenditures to host the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio an underlying theme.

A further round of fare rises earlier this month fueled fresh anger. The government insists the country will benefit overall from staging the Cup, and polls show that a majority of Brazilians back the event.

World Cup games will be played in 12 Brazilian cities including Rio and Sao Paulo.

While authorities fear further marches, a call for protests in January in Brazil's most populous cities went largely unheeded.

The exception was Sao Paulo, where about 2,500 people took to the streets and police shot and wounded one person.