SAO PAULO — Road blocks and marches sprang up in Brazilian cities Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and sought to 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.
A main thoroughfare was blocked with burning tires in Brazil's biggest city of Sao Paulo and protesters stormed a building in the capital Brasilia. Looters also took advantage of a striking military police force in the northeastern city of Recife, a World Cup venue, where security has been handed to the army until the police return.
Groups including the Homeless Workers Movement marched toward a World Cup stadium in Sao Paulo, site of the tournament's kickoff and 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!”
In Brasilia, the Homeless Workers Movement entered the headquarters of Terracap, the state company that manages the city's stadium – the country’s most expensive, at 1.4 billion reals ($630 million).
Protests were planned in up to 50 cities throughout the day. 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 warm-up.
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 from education and health care to transportation and security.
After almost a decade of steady growth before Rousseff took office, Brazil is struggling with a sluggish economy, persistent inflation, rising crime rates and lackluster investment.
Thursday's protests come during a week that already has brought widespread strikes from dissatisfied labor unions across Brazil, from bus drivers in Rio de Janeiro to military police in the northeastern city of Recife.