Brazil bracing for widespread protests

SAO PAULO (AP) — Protesters blocked two of Sao Paulo's main highways Thursday, causing chaos during the morning commute in the sprawling metropolitan area as officials braced for a wave of anti-government demonstrations in several Brazilian cities, many of them protesting the high spending on next month's World Cup.

Brazil-Corruption-and Sidd

FILE- In this April 29, 2014, file photo, a demonstrator holding a banner that reads in Portuguese "There wont be a Cup", protest against money spent on the World Cup preparations in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. In a poll last year, more than three-fourths of Brazilians said they’re certain corruption has infused the World Cup. Their anger fueled widespread and often violent anti-government protests last June that sent more than 1 million Brazilians into the street during FIFA’s Confederations Cup soccer tournament, the warm-up event to the World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

The biggest demonstrations were expected in Sao Paulo, which will host the Cup opener on June 12, and in Rio de Janeiro, where the final match will take place in July.

The demonstrations are being viewed as a test of the government's ability to contain protests ahead of football's marquee event.

Massive anti-government protests across Brazil last year overshadowed the Confederations Cup, a warm-up tournament to the World Cup, with more than a million people taking to the streets on a single night.

Many of the demonstrations turned violent, with demonstrators and police clashing. At least six people were killed in connection with the protests, most being run over by cars as rallies packed busy streets.

Brazilians are angry at the billions spent to host the World Cup, much of it on 12 ornate football stadiums, one-third of which critics say will see little use after the big event. Those who have taken to the streets call on the government to focus spending instead on improving the country's woeful health, education, security and infrastructure systems.

Some of Thursday's rallies will also focus on homeless groups calling for free or low-cost housing, and at least two big unions demanding better wages and working conditions, particularly during the World Cup.

The Brazilian government hopes that the Cup and then the 2016 Olympics in Rio will put Brazil in the global spotlight, showing advances the country has made in the past decade in improving its economy, pulling tens of millions out of poverty.