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Deadly police force

Brazil police violence reignites after deadly Rio, Sao Paulo raids

Brazil police violence reignites after deadly Rio, Sao Paulo raids
Members of the Military Police carry out an operation against organized crime, at the Alemao favela, north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 July 2022. EPA-EFE/Andre Coelho

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Police in Rio de Janeiro killed at least nine people in a raid on Wednesday, in the latest example of deadly violence by Brazil's security officials after 16 people died at the hands of Sao Paulo state police earlier this week.

Brazil, the country with the highest number of murders in the world, is also home to some of the planet’s most deadly police forces. They regularly do battle with the drug gangs and self-defense militias who have colonized many of Brazil’s poor working-class neighbourhoods, or favelas.

Police in Rio said they were attacked by armed assailants during Wednesday’s operation in the Penha neighbourhood. Nine of the alleged gangsters were killed while one officer was hospitalized, police said.

Lopsided death tolls have become a common occurrence in Rio raids, leading critics to allege excessive force or even summary executions by the police. At least 29 people died in a 2021 operation in Rio’s gang-ridden Jacarezinho slum, while only one police officer lost his life.

Police killings rose in Rio during the presidency of former President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right ex-army captain with widespread support among police. Bolsonaro, who for years represented Rio as a federal lawmaker, sought to boost legal protections for police who kill on the job, and said criminals should “die like cockroaches.”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who beat Bolsonaro in last year’s vote, has long criticized his predecessor’s support of police who kill.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state, has been less blighted by police violence than neighbouring Rio. But at least 16 people in the coastal cities of Guaruja and Santos died in confrontations with cops this week after a police officer on patrol was shot dead.

Sao Paulo Governor Tarcisio de Freitas, who was Bolsonaro’s infrastructure minister and is seen as a possible future presidential candidate, said accusations of excessive force would be investigated, but defended police work in dangerous environments.

“There is no such thing as fighting crime without collateral effects,” he said this week. “I’m sorry, but there isn’t.”

At a protest in Guaruja on Wednesday, protesters criticized Freitas’ handling of the fallout from the killings, chanting “every day, police, police kill people in the periphery.”

Among those killed in the Rio operation were “Fiel” and “Du Leme,” two alleged gang leaders in the impoverished Juramento and Chatuba neighbourhoods, police said. Seven rifles, ammunition and grenades have been seized from the suspects, they said.

“Data from the intelligence sector indicated that a meeting was taking place between leaders of the criminal faction in the region,” police spokesperson Marco Andrade said in a video.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Additional reporting by Eduardo Simoes; Writing by Steven Grattan and Gabriel Stargardter; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and Alistair Bell)

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