Anti-World Cup protest puts Sao Paulo business district on edge

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Several thousand demonstrators marched through an expensive business district of Brazil's largest city on Thursday to protest against urban developments for the football World Cup that they say have left many homeless.

"I don't want a World Cup in Brazil, I want a roof," they chanted as they passed the luxurious Iguatemi shopping centre, demanding government housing for those who have been pushed out of their homes by soaring real estate prices.

"You can send in troops, but if you don't look after the people there will be no Cup," a banner said.

The demonstration took place peacefully, although it snarled traffic and forced shops to close. Other recent protests have seen clashes with police and rioting, raising fears that violence could disrupt the World Cup that kicks off in three weeks at Sao Paulo's new Arena Corinthians stadium.

The march was organised by a group called the Homeless Worker's movement, which represents 4,000 families living in a tent city on land a few miles from the stadium that they say priced them out of their working class neighbourhood.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has promised the squatters low-cost government housing to resolve the dispute. But her government has warned that it will call in troops if necessary to prevent protests disrupting the football games.

Authorities in the 12 cities hosting World Cup games are bracing for a repeat of last year's massive demonstrations by Brazilians angered by the high cost of building stadiums instead of improving deficient public services.

Organizers of Thursday's march said they would continue protesting during the World Cup.

"We aren't against the World Cup itself but against the billions of reais that were spent," said a woman who identified herself by her first name, Waldirene. "They could have invested in healthcare, transportation and housing, which we badly need."

She said she would still root for Brazil in the World Cup. "Of course! At the end of the day, I'm still Brazilian."

(Reporting by Asher Levine; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Ken Wills)

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