Organisers fret over protests

World Cup Protests (AFP)
World Cup Protests (AFP)
Cape Town - World Cup organisers have fretted for a year over the possibility that a resurgence of mass anti-government protests could mar soccer's premiere event.

Yet in recent weeks Brazil's public sector has become the main worry. A series of strikes by public transport workers, police, teachers and others across the country is proving more disruptive than protests, and some fear they could cause chaos during the tournament that begins in a week.

On Thursday, subway and commuter train operators went on strike in Sao Paulo, just one week before Brazil's biggest city hosts the World Cup's opening match. Authorities are counting on the subway to be main way that soccer fans get to Itaquerao stadium for the game.

Striking teachers in Rio de Janeiro blocked main roads during the evening rush hour, snarling traffic in that city.

If such strikes continue, "there will be chaos during the World Cup," said Carla Dieguez, a sociologist at Sao Paulo University's School of Sociology and Politics.

"What we don't know is how long the strike will last and if workers in others cities where games will be held will also go on strike," she said about the subway and train strike.

A two-day walkout in April by state police officers in the northeastern World Cup host city of Salvador led to a spike in homicides and robberies. One week earlier a police strike in the city of Fortaleza, also a World Cup host, brought widespread looting during two days.

Last month, a 48-hour strike by Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro bus drivers left hundreds of thousands of people unable to get to and from work, while civil police in 14 states went on a 24-hour work stoppage demanding higher wages. The police strike affected at least six cities that will host World Cup games: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Salvador, Manaus, Recife and Belo Horizonte.

Federal police agents, who oversee immigration at international airports, and state police officers responsible for keeping order on the streets have said they may strike during the World Cup despite an injunction from the Supreme Court ordering them not to halt work during the tournament.

The authorities and courts haven't shown any ability to force public workers in services essential to the World Cup to show up for their jobs.

Late Wednesday a judge had ordered Sao Paulo's train operators to work at full capacity during rush hours and at 70 percent capacity in off hours. Union members voted to go ahead with the strike anyway, disdaining the judge's order that the union be fined $44,000 each day it ignores the ruling.
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