RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — FIFA President Sepp Blatter has urged protesters flooding the streets of Brazil to stop exploiting football to express their anger against the government, maintaining that the country is benefiting from investment ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of several cities in the last week just as the world is focused on Brazil for the Confederations Cup, which serves as a test event for the World Cup.
The mass demonstrations, with pockets of violence, are swelling in a collective expression of frustration at government corruption, and the lack of investment in woeful basic public services amid high taxes and heavy spending on staging FIFA's showpiece events.
"They are linking them (the protests) to the Confederations Cup," Blatter said in an interview with Brazil's Globo TV network. "I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard."
In the northern city of Fortaleza on Wednesday, protesters blocked the main access road to the stadium hosting Brazil's game against Mexico in the Confederations Cup group stage, forcing official FIFA vehicles to be diverted away from the Arena Castelao.
"To lose control is something that is impossible," Cezar Alvarez, Brazil's deputy Communications Minister, said through a translator at a briefing. "I would not say we have lost control."
Banners at the demonstrations in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro have highlighted lavish spending on the World Cup compared with an apparent lack of improvement to Brazil's notoriously poor infrastructure.
The government is projecting that $13.3 billion will be spent on stadiums, airport renovations and other projects for the World Cup, with an estimated $3.5 billion on venues.
"Brazil asked to host the World Cup," Blatter said. "We did not impose the World Cup on Brazil. They knew that to host a good World Cup they would naturally have to build stadiums.
"But we said that it was not just for the World Cup. Together with the stadiums there are other constructions: highways, hotels, airports ... items that for the future. Not just for the World Cup."
With the biggest demonstrations since the end of Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship showing no sign of receding, authorities are bracing for thousands of people to take to the streets of Rio de Janeiro on Thursday outside the Maracana stadium before Spain plays Tahiti.
The government maintains that any unrest has been "criticized by the great majority."
"We will not allow some violent protests to disturb the legal protests of a strong and growing democratic country," Alvarez said.
"This means we have to maintain safety both in the public and private locations. We have to guarantee the right of communications and circulation. We do not want to see buses on fire and cars on fire."
The Confederations Cup organizing committee is sure fans will have no problem accessing the Maracana on Thursday, but indicated that it has concerns about the streets after the game.
"We would suggest our fans to stay a little longer after the match because there are a lot of entertainment options available," organizing committee spokesman Saint Clair Milesi said.
Whether television viewers around the world see any protests inside stadiums via FIFA's feed is unclear.
"We are focusing on the players and the main actors of the game," said Niclas Ericson, FIFA's director of television. "Our production is set to focus on the match."
At the Confederations Cup opener between Brazil and Japan on Saturday, loud jeering of Blatter and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff could be heard globally when their names were introduced at the National Stadium in Brasilia.
"They could jeer FIFA's president — I don't care, because people could like or dislike the FIFA president," Blatter said. "But the chief-of-state was there and I asked for a little bit of respect and a clean game. For her not me."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris
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