A demonstrator winds up to return a tear gas grenade to police, outside the central train station, during a protest against the increase on bus fares in Rio de Janeiro. Picture: Leo Correa

Rio de Janeiro - More than 1 000 demonstrators protesting hikes in public transport fares clashed with police in Rio on Thursday in the latest example of simmering social tensions in the run-up to this year's World Cup.

Protesters fought running battles with police, who fired tear gas and charged the crowd as they attempted to clear the area around the main bus station.

“We won't pay three reais” and “we want Fifa-standard trains,” marchers shouted, referring to football's world governing body.

Brazil has witnessed widespread public anger at the billions of dollars being spent on the World Cup in a country lacking good public transport and struggling with sagging education and health infrastructure.

Some protesters vandalised ticket machines and set ablaze a barricade.

An AFP reporter saw one policemen carried away by colleagues but also witnessed other officers striking bystanders.

The protest, called by the Pasa Livre (free passage) movement, was far smaller, however, than those which marred last year's Confederations Cup.

Then, nationwide protests brought more than a million people into the streets.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes announced last week that bus fares would rise nine percent from February 8 to a politically sensitive three reais ($1.25).

It was a proposed 0.20 reais increase in Sao Paulo last year which sparked the initial protests. - AFP