Brazilian riot police evict indigenous people near Rio's Maracanã stadium

A supporter of the indigenous community is arrested outside the Brazilian Indian museum in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilian riot police armed with batons, teargas and pepper spray have forcibly evicted an indigenous community from a dilapidated museum complex next to the Maracanã football stadium.

The forced relocation, which led to scuffles, arrests and accusations of brutality, comes amid growing pressure on the hosts of the next World Cup to accelerate preparations that have fallen far behind schedule. Renovation of the stadium, which will host next year's final, was supposed to have been completed at the end of last year, but there are doubts that it will be ready for a friendly between England and Brazil in June.

The museum has been the focus of a protracted legal battle between squatters, who claim the site should be used to promote indigenous culture, and the municipal authorities, who want to knock down a graffiti-covered eyesore and modernise the area before the world's attention moves to Rio de Janeiro.

"We were negotiating, and then the government resorted to force," said Urutau Guajajara, a bare-chested man wearing a feathered headdress who described himself as a professor of the Guajajara ethnic group. "The police were very violent."

"It was shocking," said Ingrid Paul, an Argentinian who has lived in the community for the past three weeks. "The police were obviously preparing for a fight. They came in with masks at 2:30am. We were all affected by the gas, even a three-year-old child."

After their eviction, some of the indigenous people were taken to temporary housing provided by the government. Others sang songs, smoked pipes and handed out leaflets declaring: "513 years of struggle: resist the expulsion of the multi-ethnic indigenous group of the Maracanã."

In the aftermath, police and TV helicopters buzzed overhead. Officers armed with automatic rifles cordoned off the area and several dozen police vehicles – including armoured personnel carriers – lined the streets.

The government says it is necessary to raze the building as part of the renovation of a rundown area that is supposed to be transformed into a sports and entertainment hub.

The authorities have promised to build a new Indian cultural centre that incorporates housing, though that won't be complete until the end of 2014.

Senior officials appear reluctant, however, to take responsibility for the evictions and demolition. Last October, Sergio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, shifted the blame on the world football body, Fifa. "It's being demanded by Fifa and the World Cup organising committee. Long live democracy, but the building has no historical value. We're going to tear it down," he told reporters at the time. Fifa subsequently denied that it had ordered such a step.

Brazil is running out of time to prepare for the World Cup. Several stadiums are far behind schedule. The £300m renovation of the Maracanã was supposed to have been presented to Fifa last month, but – after storms and floods – the pitch was only laid last week, and the installation of seating and roofing has been postponed to 24 May, just nine days before the friendly with England.



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