New clashes in Brazil as security forces deployed

Fresh clashes erupted Wednesday in Brazil between police and protesters outraged over mass spending for next year's World Cup, as the government deployed elite forces to quell the unrest.

At least two people were injured in clashes near a stadium in the northeastern city of Fortaleza -- one of several sites hosting Confederations Cup matches where elite police units have fanned out to restore order.

Some of the roughly 10,000 protesters hurled stones at security forces, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, AFP reporters witnessed. One person suffered an eye injury and a second was taken away on a stretcher.

Protests initially sparked by a hike in bus fares in Sao Paulo quickly spiraled into nationwide marches against corruption, fueled by anger that -- in a country with a wide rich-poor divide -- billions of dollars were being spent on stadiums and far too little was earmarked for social programs.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country to denounce the $15 billion being spent on this month's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.

The justice ministry said it had deployed a crack federal police unit in five places hosting Confederations Cup matches: the states of Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Ceara as well as in the federal district of Brasilia.

The National Force, composed of police and firefighters from different states that are called up for duty on special occasions, is a "conciliatory, mediating" force, "not repressive," the ministry said.

In Fortaleza, a city of 3.5 million where Brazil and Mexico were due to face off in Confederations Cup action at the $240 million Novo Castelao arena later in the day, 6,000 additional state police troopers were also deployed.

"Brazil, we are going to wake up -- a professor is worth more than Neymar," the demonstrators in Fortaleza shouted, referring to a popular star of the national team.

"While you watch television, I am changing the country. Football no, we want education," read one placard.

The protesters also railed against the country's entire political class, which is widely seen as corrupt.

"We are protesting the use of public funds for the construction of stadiums, money that should be used for education," said 18-year-old Matheus Dantas, amid a sea of Brazilian flags.

More protests were under way or set to take place later Wednesday, notably in Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte.

On Tuesday, at least 50,000 people flooded the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous city and the nation's industrial capital, to vent their anger at the country's politicians, including President Dilma Rousseff.

Several hundred of them peeled off from the main march and set a car and a police stand on fire.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd, but many returned and looted stores, taking off with jewelry, clothing and TV sets.

Early Wednesday, hundreds of protesters marched peacefully in suburban Sao Paulo.

O Globo television aired footage showing demonstrators blocking a highway linking Sao Paulo to the port of Santos.

Faced with the widening protests, federal and state authorities made conciliatory gestures, with Rousseff vowing to listen to the voices of the country's angry youth and calling their demands legitimate.

And several cities, including Porto Alegre and Recife, announced a reduction in public transport fares.

In Sao Paulo, Mayor Fernando Haddad agreed to review the fare hikes following a meeting with representatives of the Free Pass Movement, one of the sponsors of the protest.

But the movement vowed to press on with the demonstrations until the price increases are rolled back.

In Rio, where 100,000 people rallied Monday in the country's biggest and most violent protest, Mayor Eduardo Paes conceded that local transport was of poor quality and expressed readiness to review the bus fares.

"It is the beginning of the tropical spring," leftist politician Givalnildo Manoel told AFP in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.