A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators when a scuffle broke out during a protest against the money spent on the Rio's 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. (Leo Correa/AP)

 

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The Olympic torch faced at least three different protests as it neared Rio, a South Korean cyclist was knocked of his bike by a car, and a bomb scare closed a new tram station. As Rio counts down to its Olympic opening ceremony, Tuesday's dramas were all transport-related.

The Olympic torch spent the day on the other side of the Guanabara Bay from Rio and hit protests in at least three of them.

In Itaborai, a gritty, outlying town, construction of a huge oil refinery project has been mothballed after investigators discovered bribery was involved in contracts -- leaving many residents unemployed. Demonstrators carried a banner reading: “While the torch passes lit in Itaborai, jobs, health and education are put out.” A video of their protest was posted on YouTube.

In nearby Sao Goncalo, protesters held up the torch's progress and forced police to change its route, local media reported. A video posted to YouTube showed a group of a hundred or so demonstrators chanting threats to put out the torch while holding a banner emblazoned with the Olympic rings and the phrase “exclusion games.” Exasperated police stood by.

Rio's tabloid Extra reported that National Force agents had to cancel a torch ceremony in the town and move participants to the vicinity of a nearby police station so the Olympic flame’s journey could continue.

As the torch moved closer to Rio it was met by a third protest in Niteroi, a more affluent town with views across the bay to the host city. The Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported that riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters and arrested two people. The Midia Ninja media collective tweeted video of riot police and angry demonstrators.

 

Nacho Lemus, a reporter from the left-leaning Telesur network, which is funded by several South American countries, tweeted video of a woman being arrested by a female police officer who had her arm around the woman's neck, shouting: “Fascist police! Fascist police! The Olympics kill!” Lemus reported three were detained.

The torch's journey has been beset by problems as it traveled around Brazil, including attempts to put it out with fire extinguishers. In the seaside town of Angra dos Reis last week, protesters appeared to succeed in putting out the torch in a protest that police met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The torch is due to sail across the Guanabara Bay to Rio on Wednesday morning before spending two days circulating the city. It will dock at a Naval School in Rio's renovated port area and be met by mayor Eduardo Paes.

He has been dealing with a different crisis -- the  traffic backups on major arteries since exclusive Olympic lanes were opened for “Olympic Family” vehicles on Sunday. Traffic has been worsening since Monday morning with up to three-hour delays reported on some roads.

At a news conference on Tuesday Paes admitted the problems and declared a public holiday on Thursday in an attempt to ease congestion. It will be the fourth holiday he has so far declared during the Olympic period.

But Rio residents have complained that more needs to be done.

“They have to let taxis on the Olympic lanes, or open them at night. Leaving them operating 24 hours a day does not make sense. And they have to declare more holidays,” said Eduardo Zappia, a photographer who said his car journey times around Rio have increased by 40 percent. “The traffic is very bad.”

Rio's new tram service, a light rail network called the VLT that opened in June, also hit problems on Tuesday morning. The VLT station at Rio’s Santos Dumont regional airport was closed and sealed off for two hours when a rucksack was left unattended. TV Globo reported that it was a false alarm.

Rio 2016 athletes ran into more trouble on Rio's roads. The G1 news site reported a Korean cyclist had been hit by a car on a road near the Vista Chinesa, or Chinese View, a popular beauty spot with views of the city and sea. Kim Ok-Cheol suffered light injuries, the site said.

The steep road he was training on leads into the Tijuca Forest where Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue is located. The area is popular with weekend cyclists because it is relatively quiet. Road markings indicate that the road is a cycle path, but also that it is shared with cars – an arrangement some transportation experts have criticized because while it allows city hall to claim it has built more cycle paths, it does not offer sufficient protection to cyclists.

Unlike the 2012 London Games, Rio 2016 has not offered cycle parks at the Olympic Park even though there is a new cycle path running between the Park and the nearby Athletes’ Village. Instead cyclists lock their bicycles to its perimeter fence.


Bicycles chained to the fence of the BRT station outside Rio's Olympic Park. There are no bicycle parks at the Park, but plenty of bikes chained to its fences and others nearby. (Dom Phillips/The Washington Post)