Sunday 21 January 2018

Fears for Pope's safety grow after protesters clash with police in Rio

Nick Squires and Donna Bowater Rio de Janeiro

Fears for the Pope's safety during his trip to Brazil are growing after violent protests broke out in Rio de Janeiro within hours of his arrival.

The pontiff was forced to take a military helicopter to the Guanabara palace, the house of the governor of Rio state, as protesters clashed with riot police.

While some protesters expressed anger at the €41m cost of the papal visit, their main focus was the Brazilian government, which last month faced violent street demonstrations over corruption, poor public services and the expense of hosting next year's World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics.

"We've got nothing against the Pope," said Christopher Creindel, a 22-year-old art student from Rio who was protesting outside the palace. "This protest is against our politicians."

About 1,500 demonstrators took to the streets. There were clashes with police as officers tried to disperse the crowd. Six people were arrested and at least three injured. The unrest was an inauspicious start to the Pope's trip, and came after he was mobbed while travelling in a motorcade from Rio airport to the city centre.

After the driver of his modest four-door silver Fiat took a wrong turn, the motorcade became stuck in traffic and hundreds of people swarmed around the vehicle, thrusting their hands through an open window in the hope of touching the Argentine-born Pontiff.

Vatican gendarmes and Brazilian security officers escorting the Pope appeared at one point to have completely lost control of the situation and had to shove bystanders away. The 30,000 soldiers and police who have been deployed to provide security for the week-long visit to Brazil were nowhere to be seen.

"If there had been a hooligan among the faithful, he could have thrown a stone or something worse," Diogenes Dantas, a colonel in the Brazilian army and an expert on security planning for major events, said.

Despite the chaos he experienced during the opening hours of his visit, the Pope himself seemed unperturbed.

"Thank you to all of you and to all the authorities for a magnificent welcome in Rio," he wrote on Twitter.

Underlining concern for the Pope's security, the authorities said they had found a home-made bomb at a Catholic shrine that Francis will visit today.

The device, found on Sunday in a lavatory at the sanctuary of Aparecida, between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, was detonated by military police.

The Vatican played down the security fears, saying it had total confidence in the authorities.

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, admitted that the Pope's secretary had been "terrified" during the frenzied mobbing of the motorcade, but said the Pontiff himself had been unperturbed by the "enthusiasm" of well-wishers.

"There are no concerns for security," he said, adding that Francis did not want the existing level of security to be increased.

One of the biggest security challenges will come tomorrow when Francis visits one of Rio's notorious favelas or shanty towns. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in World News