Police disperse World Cup protest with tear gas

AFP
Police walk past a smoke bomb during a protest against the FIFA World Cup to demand better social services near the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, 2014
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Police walk past a smoke bomb during a protest against the FIFA World Cup to demand better social services near the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13, 2014 (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Police launched tear gas and stun grenades Sunday to disperse some 300 anti-World Cup protesters who tried to march toward Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium shortly before the Argentina-Germany final.

The demonstrators were protesting against police repression and the country's lackluster health care when authorities intervened, one day after 19 activists accused of vandalism were arrested.

At least one protester dressed in black was hit by police and detained.

Many ran away in several directions in small groups while some 100 stayed behind at a square in the Tijuca neighborhood, one kilometer (half a mile) from the stadium, clapping their hands and chanting against the police.

Mounted police were sent in to control the crowd along with hundreds of other officers. Earlier, police used pepper spray to prevent demonstrators from getting past a blockade.

Some 26,000 police and soldiers armed with assault rifles were in the city for the final, in the country's biggest ever security deployment.

The protesters held banners reading "Free the prisoners, dictatorship never again" and "They call me Neymar and they take care of my health," referring to the football star's injury during the tournament.

"The Cup is ending but the problems remain," said Erin Morais de Melo, a prosthodontist disguised as Batman, before riot police broke up the protest.

"The central issue is the need to improve public services, our weak education system, health care and security."

Brazil was hit by mass protests during last year's Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal to this year's event, denouncing the record $11 billion spent on the tournament and demanding better public services.

But the protests have been much smaller during the World Cup, with police using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a small gathering before the June 12 opening game in Sao Paulo.