Death of TV dancer sparks violent riot in Rio slum
A RIO DE JANEIRO slum has erupted in violence following the killing of a popular local dancer, with residents starting fires and hurling home-made explosives and bottles in the city's main tourist zone.
Intense exchanges of gunfire were heard when members of an elite police moved into the Pavao-Pavaozinho slum, a few hundred yards from where Olympic swimming events are expected to take place in 2016.
It was the latest violence to hit one of Rio's so-called "pacified" slums - impoverished areas that were controlled by drug gangs for decades.
Police began an ambitious security programme in 2008 to drive the gangs from those slums and for the first time set up permanent posts. It is part of Rio's overall security push ahead of the World Cup that begins this June and the Olympics the city will host.
So far, 37 such "police pacification units" have been created, covering an area with a population of 1.5 million people. But there have been repeated complaints of heavy-handed police tactics that have ended in deaths, which is what set off the latest clashes, residents said.
The body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, 25, a dancer on a TV show for Brazil's Globo network, the nation's largest channel, was discovered in the slum yesterday. The circumstances of his death were not clear, but residents blame police.
"The police beat my friend to death, just like they've tortured and killed in other communities," said Johanas Mesquita, 23, of Pavao-Pavaozinho. "This effort to pacify the favelas (slums) is a failure, the police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before."
Police on the scene refused to answer questions about what prompted the violence.
Following the discovery of the body, angry young men began lighting fires throughout the slum and tossing homemade explosives, bottles and other objects down on to Copacabana's main avenues.
Elite police units entered the slum and at least three prolonged exchanges of gunfire were heard, presumably between officers and the drug gang members who continue to maintain a presence in the shanty-town.
There was no word on deaths or injuries from the action, but it was the latest blow to befall Rio's security programme.
In recent months, drug gangs have brazenly attacked police outposts, in what authorities themselves say is an effort to block the expansion of the pacification programme and to win back lucrative drug-selling territory.
Since November, gunfights have regularly broken out in the slum where the violence took place.