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Brazil hit by strikes ahead of World Cup

Wednesday, May 21 17:23:41

Bus drivers in Sao Paulo went on strike for a second day today, snarling transit and leaving hundreds of thousands stranded in South America's largest city less than a month before it hosts the opening World Cup soccer match.

Drivers and fare collectors following a dissident faction of the local union walked off the job on Tuesday, leaving vehicles parked on major roads and closing more than half the terminals in Brazil's business capital without giving warning of the imminent gridlock.

The strike in Sao Paulo, generally one of Brazil's most orderly cities, highlights growing uncertainty over the country's ability to pull off one of the world's largest sporting events in 12 cities. Many soccer fans are expected to rely on public transportation to get to stadiums on game days.

Sao Paulo has limited metro service and its train stations were dangerously overcrowded on Tuesday, with passengers nearly crushed on escalators during the evening rush hour. As commuters resorted to cars, local media reported 260 kilometers (162 miles) of gridlock throughout the city.

Last week a similar bus strike in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Olympics as well as World Cup matches, left thousands stranded and some 300 vehicles vandalised.

Civil and federal police were also on strike in other parts of the country on Wednesday. When military police walked off the job in recent weeks in Salvador and Recife on the northeastern coast, also World Cup host cities, there were reports of widespread looting and homicides.

Because the bus strike was started by a dissident faction within the Sao Paulo driver's union and not the union itself, the city government has been able to do no more than condemn it. The city had negotiated a 10 percent salary raise with the official union on Monday, but some factions wanted more.