SÃO PAULO — Protests erupted on the streets of Brazil’s largest city Thursday just hours before the opening of the World Cup soccer tournament, with the police dispersing demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets near the stadium where Brazil was to play against Croatia.
While a festive mood began emerging in other parts of São Paulo and elsewhere in Brazil, the intensity of the crackdown on the relatively small protests by the police seemed to stun the protesters, who numbered in the hundreds and were voicing opposition to Brazil’s spending on the monthlong event. Several protesters and journalists were injured in the tumult, including a producer for CNN.
“The police response was absurd,” said Paula Machado, 24, an English teacher who was among the protesters. “This is a violation of our rights.”
Tension persists around the country over the tournament, with simmering resentment among many people about spending on the World Cup, estimated at $11 billion.
In São Paulo, the protesters were largely peaceful, carrying banners criticizing FIFA, the organization overseeing international soccer and the World Cup. But at certain points some masked demonstrators also threw rocks and bottles in the direction of police, while lighting piles of garbage on fire in the street.
A small protest against the World Cup also unfolded in downtown Rio de Janeiro, with the police dispersing hundreds of protesters by firing rubber bullets in their midst.
A strike by airport workers in Rio was suspended according to Brazilian news reports, but only after causing missed flights for some World Cup visitors at the city’s largest airport.
Elsewhere, a strike by bus drivers began in Natal, a host city in northeast Brazil where the United States will play against Ghana on Monday. Hundreds of doctors in the city’s public health system also went on strike. Brazil’s government said it was sending 4,700 federal troops to help maintain order in the city.
In the immediate vicinity of the stadium, the police presence was strong, with police officers or mobile units present at almost every turn.
Brazilian fans, the majority wearing yellow jerseys or bandannas, posed with Croatian fans wearing their red-and-white checkered jerseys underneath a wall display that was a tribute to the history of the Corinthians, one of São Paulo’s largest soccer teams.