POLICE sprayed demonstrators with rubber bullets and tear gas yesterday in Rio de Janeiro near the Arena Corinthians hours before the World Cup’s opening match.
At least five people were injured in the clashes near an underground station on the route to the Arena Corinthians.
Further protests are planned in other Brazilian cities over the expense of hosting the tournament.
Airport workers declared a 24-hour work stoppage on Wednesday night, hitting the main destination for football fans travelling to Brazil.
And underground workers were poised for strike action in Sao Paulo which had threatened to disrupt the opening of the World Cup. But it was averted the same night when around 1,500 workers voted against going back on strike to press their pay dispute.
World Cup organisers are counting on Sao Paulo’s underground system to carry tens of thousands of fans to Itaquerao stadium, where Brazil played Croatia in the tournament’s first game last night.
The workers had temporarily suspended the walkout on Monday amid government pressure to end the chaos in Brazil’s biggest city.
And on Wednesday night they extended the suspension further.
“We thought that right now it’s better to wait,” Underground Workers Union (UWU) president Altino Prazeres said.
“We get the feeling that maybe we aren’t prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts.”
However, Mr Prazeres added that he would not rule out resuming the strike at sometime during the month-long tournament.
UWU held a street protest yesterday morning demanding that the 42 workers who had been fired during the five-day work stoppage were rehired immediately.
In Rio, where fans were arriving before Sunday’s match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina, check-in counter staff, baggage handlers and maintenance staff who have been demanding raises of at least 5.6 per cent for several months stopped work at midnight.
The stoppage affected the city’s Galeao International airport as well as the Santos Dumont airport that connects Rio to other Brazilian destinations.
But a union representative said that only 20 per cent of workers would stay off the job for 24 hours, avoiding penalties set by a labour court that threatened to fine unions more than £13,000 if staffing fell below 80 per cent of normal levels.
In the northern city of Natal, where the US plays its first game against Ghana on Monday, bus drivers stayed at home yesterday in a 24-hour protest to press their demands for a 16 per cent increase.
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