BRASILIA, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Faced with the specter of street protests disrupting this year’s World Cup, soccer’s governing body FIFA expects host country Brazil to deploy police if necessary to contain violent demonstrators and guarantee access to stadiums.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who is touring some World Cup host cities this week, said Brazilians are democratically entitled to stage peaceful protests during the global sporting event.
“But unpeaceful demonstrations by people who are just trying to create problems and fight against the authorities, there is only way to bring them down, and that is to use the police to make sure these people are under control,” Valcke said at a news conference in Brasilia, the capital.
Brazilian authorities are bracing for a new wave of protests during the World Cup and plan to deploy tens of thousands of police and have military troops on standby to secure the 12 stadiums across Brazil where the games will be played between June 12 and July 13.
In an unexpected outburst of discontent, more than a million people took to the streets during a warm-up for the World Cup last year to protest against poor public services, corruption and the high cost of the stadiums built for the FIFA event.
The protests have continued this year, though they have become smaller and more violent with anarchist groups vandalizing storefronts and banks and clashing with police.
The violent nature of the protests was brought home to Brazilians last week with the death of a TV cameraman who was struck by a homemade bottle rocket days earlier during a protest against a hike in bus fares in Rio de Janeiro.
The potential for violence marring the World Cup was highlighted by a member of one of the anarchist groups known as “Black Blocs” who threatened to attack foreign delegations in an interview published by the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper on Sunday.
Any disruption of the soccer tournament, which was meant to mark Brazil’s coming of age on the global stage, would embarrass President Dilma Rousseff’s government and undermine her popularity as she prepares to seek re-election in October.
The ruling Workers’ Party, many of whose leaders suffered repression under military dictatorship in the 1970s, has opposed attempts in Congress to pass a bill that would equate violent protests with terrorism.
Instead, Rousseff’s government is proposing legislation to crack down on vandalism by introducing harsher prison sentences and banning demonstrators from wearing masks that hide their identities.
Brazilian authorities expect protests during the World Cup to be smaller and more violent than those seen last June. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)