Sao Paulo:  Protesters began a wave of demonstrations around Brazil today, burning tires and blocking highways to draw attention to housing and education needs before next month’s World Cup.

In Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest city, demonstrators blocked two key roads into the city and hundreds protested near one of the stadiums built for soccer’s premier tournament.

“Our goal is symbolic. We don’t want to destroy or damage the stadium. What we want is more rights for workers to have access to housing and to show the effects the Cup has brought to the poor,” said Guilherme Boulos, head of the Homeless Workers Movement, whose activists gathered at Itaquerao Stadium.

The group claims many people have been forced out of their homes because of rising rents in the neighbourhood around the new stadium.

About 1,500 people at the rally waved red banners and Brazilian flags as black smoke rose from burning tires spoiling the view of the stadium. Dozens of riot police blocked the main entrance next to a construction zone where cranes and other machines were lined up to carry materials still needed to finish the arena.

Anti-government demonstrations also took place in other cities hosting World Cup games. Some were called by two big unions that are demanding better wages and working conditions.

The police in the northeastern state of Pernambuco entered the third day of a strike today for a 50 per cent pay hike.

“They are obviously using the proximity of the World Cup to pressure us to give into their demands,” state government press officer Manoel Guimaraes said by telephone.

The state capital, Recife, will host five World Cup matches, starting on June 14.

Guimaraes said elite federal police troops have been deployed in the state because of an upswing in looting , car robberies and murders since the strike started.

The demonstrations were being watched as a test of the government’s ability to maintain security during the World Cup.

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