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Sao Paulo construction worker dies

A Sao Paulo construction worker has been killed in an accident on a monorail meant to expand the city's metro network just days before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil's biggest city.

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Local police say the victim was hit by a large concrete support beam that fell while being erected on Monday. An investigation into the cause of the accident is underway.

The accident comes on the same day a strike among transport workers -- which has since been temporarily suspended -- paralysed Sao Paulo's subway system ahead of the city staging Thursday's opening match between the hosts and Croatia. It occurred near Brazil's busiest domestic airport of Congonhas.

Originally, the expansion of the metro system was meant to be completed before the World Cup to help fans move around the congested city. But in 2011, just a year after construction began, the government already warned it wouldn't be ready in time for the tournament.

Leaders of striking subway workers announced on Monday night that the union was suspending the work stoppage that has thrown traffic into chaos in the city for two days.

But in a statement on the union's website, leaders said they would hold a vote on Wednesday to determine if their strike would resume the following day.

The union is seeking a 12 percent wage hike but the government says it won't offer anything above 8.7 percent. Meetings between government officials and union representatives on Monday stalled on that point.

Authorities are deeply worried about the strike because the subway is the main means of transportation for fans who will attend the Group A opener. The stadium is about 12 miles east of central Sao Paulo, where most tourists stay.

There were hopes the work stoppage might be resolved sooner than that as union officials met for the first time in days with government authorities in talks that continued into Monday night.

Earlier in the day, riot police fired tear gas to force about 100 striking workers out of the station on the fifth day of a subway strike that has thrown Sao Paulo's normally congested traffic into chaos.

''This is the way they negotiate, with tear gas and repression,'' Alexandre Roldan, a union leader, said as he and others strikers regrouped outside the station following the confrontation.

Altino Prazeres, president of the union leading the strike, said almost all of the 8,000 subway employees had walked out in the past few days. He marched along with workers on a street in central Sao Paulo and said they were not interested in disrupting the World Cup.

''I love soccer! I support our national team. The point is not to stop the Cup,'' he said. ''We want to resolve this today and all are willing to negotiate.''

Prazeres said workers were willing to negotiate a lower raise if the state-run subway company offered more benefits, but managers have refused to agree. A spokeswoman for the subway company declined to answer questions.

About half of the city's subway stations were operating, but with greatly diminished service. Many of the city's key intersections were jammed with cars and trucks, and traffic was moving very slowly elsewhere.

Sao Paulo state's transport secretary, Jurandir Fernandes, told local reporters that 60 striking workers had been fired, and union officials began hearing of their members receiving telegrams announcing the dismissal.

Bruno Everton, who sells tickets at a subway station and is one of the union's regional leaders, received a letter on Monday saying he had been dismissed.

''It's an embarrassment that Brazil is depriving the workers of their rights,'' Everton said. ''This is an illegal firing. The government is trying to provoke us. They are threatening us.''

After being forced out of the subway station by police early on Monday, striking workers marched in the city centre and about 400 gathered in front of the state government building housing the transportation secretariat.

A Sao Paulo labour court over the weekend fined the union $175,000 for the first four days of the strike and said it would add $220,000 for each additional day the work stoppage continued.

Other groups have supported the strike, saying workers deserve a fair raise and the government ought to invest more in public transportation. But some people are angry because commutes are taking much longer in the city of 11 million.

Adriana Silva, who works as a cashier at a jewellery store downtown, said it has taken her three hours to get to work from the eastern tip of the city where the World Cup will kick off.

''Why do this now? Why so close to the Cup?'' she said. ''Who they end up hurting more is us. This has to stop.''

The subway strike is the latest unrest to hit Brazil in the run-up to the World Cup. Teachers remain on strike in Rio de Janeiro and routinely block streets with rallies. Police in several cities have gone on strike, but are back at work now.

The work stoppages are in addition to a steady drumbeat of anti-government protests that began a year ago during huge demonstrations in dozens of Brazilian cities. Those protests blasted government spending for the World Cup and demanded big improvements in woeful public services like hospitals, schools, security and transportation.

The anti-government protests have greatly diminished in size but not in frequency. Demonstrations have repeatedly erupted in Brazil's metropolitan areas in recent months, with even a small number of protesters blocking main roadways and severely disrupting traffic.

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Police attempt to disperse protesters by firing tear gas as metro strike continues in Sao Paulo.
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