SAO PAULO, May 15 (Reuters) - Cities across Brazil braced for demonstrations on Thursday, as disparate protest movements seek to criticize spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June.
Less than a month before the tournament kicks off, and four months before a presidential election, Thursday's protests will gauge the ability of demonstrators to once again rally frustrated Brazilians and the competence of police to manage unrest that occasionally escalated over the past year into violence and vandalism.
Though most demonstrations are expected to gain steam later in the day, protestors in São Paulo, the country's biggest city, by early morning had blocked a major thoroughfare with burning tires and disrupted commutes elsewhere.
Some groups, including the Homeless Workers Movement, marched towards a World Cup stadium, site of the tournament's kickoff, that has become a target because of families displaced by its construction.
One banner carried by demonstrators read: "The cup without the people, all to the streets again!"
Protests are planned in up to 50 cities throughout the day, as demonstrators hope to rekindle momentum that led to millions of people hitting the streets last year during the Confederations Cup, a two-week World Cup warmup.
Last year's demonstrations prompted President Dilma Rousseff, who faces a bid for re-election in October, to address the nation and acknowledge deficiencies in public services and investment in everything form education and health care to transportation and security.
After a near-decade of steady growth before she took office, Brazil is now struggling with a sluggish economy, persistent inflation, rising crime rates and lackluster investment.
Thursday's protests come in a week which has already seen widespread strikes from dissatisfied labor unions across Brazil, from bus drivers in Rio de Janeiro to military police in the northeastern city of Recife.
(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer in Rio de Janeiro and Pedro Fonseca and Nacho Doce in São Paulo. Editing by Paulo Prada and W Simon)