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Demonstrators march to protest the amount of money spent on World Cup preparations in Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 15. Brazil will host the soccer tournament this year. (AP)
Sao Paulo World Cup stadium handed to owners, unfinished 54 arrested in Brazil demo

SAO PAULO, April 16, (AFP): The construction firm behind the new World Cup stadium at Sao Paulo, due to stage the opening match on June 12, Tuesday handed over the site to owners Corinthians, although work has yet to be completed ahead of a planned mid-May handover to FIFA. In a symbolic handover to first division outfit Corinthians, Antonio Gavioli, contracts’ director with constructor Odebrecht, handed a commemorative plaque to club chairman Mario Gobbi and former chairman Andres Sanchez, now overseeing the site. The stadium, which will host Brazil’s curtain-raiser against Croatia on June 12, has been beset by delays, following two fatal accidents during construction which killed three site workers. Corinthians are due to hand over the stadium to FIFA on May 20, less than a month before kick-off, but Gobbi lauded Tuesday’s handover.

“We feel great emotion. In this symbolic act, Corinthians have received their own home from Odebrecht and Corinthians is going to pay for this construction,” Gobbi noted. He conceded “a few weeks work” are still required for finalizing the facility with temporary stands still to be finished off. FIFA had originally demanded that all 12 World Cup venues be ready by December 31. But an accident which saw a crane fall across the stands last November, killing two workers, and then another fatality in March caused major delay with work on the areas affected brought to a temporary standstill pending tightened worker security. In total, seven stadium workers have been killed during Brazil’s Cup preparations — three more at Manaus and one in the capital Brasilia. The Corinthians Arena now has to pass fire safety tests before a first official test game can be held at the venue on May 17, a league match between Corinthians and Figueirense. Three smaller-scale events are planned beforehand later this month. Sanchez has indicated that the stadium will end up costing between 920 and 950 million reais ($411-424 million), or some 14 to 18 percent more than initial estimates. Aside from Sao Paulo, three other stadiums — Porto Alegre, Cuiaba and Curitiba — also still have to be finalized. FIFA at one stage threatened to exclude Curitiba before relenting in February after the pace of work was stepped up with more workers drafted.

Meanwhile, Brazilian police arrested 54 people at a demonstration late Tuesday against the World Cup in which two banks were vandalised, officials said. About 1,000 people marched along the key Avenida Paulista road in Sao Paulo where the World Cup opening game will be held on June 12. Demonstrators carried banners with slogans such as “There will be no Cup.” They denounced the billions of dollars spent on preparations for the tournament, the world’s biggest sporting event. Police said on Twitter the 54 people arrested had been “promoting disorder.” At the start of the rally a Brazilian flag was burned. Later, demonstrators smashed windows at two bank branches and took refuge at a subway station, where police surrounded them.

Sao Paulo has seen several protest rallied against the World Cup, but numbers have shrunk. Huge rallies were held in June last year when Brazil staged the Confederations Cup, a rehearsal tournament for the World Cup. Then, a huge grassroots movement took to the streets with more than one million people demanding better services in health, education and transport and a crackdown on corruption. Recent demonstrations have been smaller but more violent, tending to end in vandalism and clashes with police, who sometimes have taken a hard line on protesters. Police used a stun grenade to disperse the latest demonstration. The World Cup will be held in 12 Brazilian cities with the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. The home country is a strong favourite to win the trophy.

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