Brazilian police arrest 19 ahead of World Cup final

Military police officers stand guard at the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on July 12, 2014, on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Military police officers stand guard at the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on July 12, 2014, on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium. -- PHOTO: AFP 

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Brazilian police said Saturday they had arrested 19 people on the eve of the World Cup final accused of vandalism in host city Rio de Janeiro prior to the event.

A spokesman said police had issued arrest warrants for 28 people – nine remain on the run. Two of those arrested are minors, they added.

Those arrested could face up three years in jail if they are found to have belonged to an armed group.

Brazil has seen waves of protests over the past 13 months, starting ahead of last year’s Confederations Cup, a World Cup warm up.

The initial protests, generally peaceful, drew around a million people into the streets, initially over transport fare hikes.

But they grew as people voiced increasing anger at the $11-billion cost of the World Cup in a country needing major investment in areas such as health services and education.

Recent months saw radical elements known as Black Bloc infiltrate the protesters and, although the marches progressively drew far fewer people, some ended in urban violence.

According to police, those arrested were planning renewed violence Sunday afternoon, when Germany take on Argentina in the World Cup final at the Maracana stadium.

“Evidence gathered throughout the investigation and today show that this group was preparing to carry out acts of violence,” said Fernando Veloso, head of Rio’s civil police.

Radicals from the Anonymous pressure group and the Black Bloc had called a protest three hours before the final near the Maracana.

Police said they had impounded a pistol, an explosive device and a stash of drugs as well as masks to protect marchers from tear gas.

In all, 80 police were involved in a surveillance operation in Rio, the southeastern resort town of Buzios and Porto Alegre in the south.

One of those arrested, Eliza Quadros Pinto, was arrested in a similar operation on June 11 the day before the Cup started.

In an attempt to ensure Sunday’s final goes off smoothly, authorities are deploying 26,000 police and security personnel in Rio in the largest security operation the city has seen.

The month-long tournament saw 100,000 police and 50,000 troops mobilized across the 12 venues.