A Rio de Janeiro slum has erupted in violence following the killing of a popular local figure, with angry residents setting fires and showering homemade explosives and glass bottles on to a busy avenue in the city’s main tourist zone.
Intense exchanges of gunfire were heard when members of an elite police squad moved into the Pavao-Pavaozinho slum, which lies a few hundred metres from where Olympic swimming events are expected to take place in 2016.
Residents blame police for the killing of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, 25, whose body was found earlier in the day.
The O Globo newspaper, citing local health officials, reported that another resident of the slum was shot and killed, and a 12-year-old boy shot and wounded, during Tuesday night’s gunfire. It is not clear who fired the shots, nor did police confirm the reports.
It was the latest violence to hit one of Rio’s so-called “pacified” slums – impoverished areas that for decades were controlled by drug gangs.
Police began an ambitious security programme in 2008 to drive the gangs from such slums and for the first time set up permanent posts. The action is part of Rio’s overall security push ahead of the World Cup that begins this June and the Olympics the city will host in 2016.
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 the deaths of residents, leading to the latest clashes.
More than two dozen police face charges from a high-profile case in a different shantytown, when investigators said a local man died while being tortured by police.
Slum residents have also lamented the lack of social services that had been promised to arrive along with the police presence in their communities.
Tuesday’s violence erupted after the body of Mr da Silva Pereira was found. He was a well-known figure in the community, as he was a dancer on a TV show for Brazil’s Globo network, the nation’s largest channel.
The circumstances of his death are 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, a 23-year-old resident of Pavao-Pavaozinho. “This effort to pacify the favelas is a failure, the police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before.”
Police at 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 later entered the slum, and at least three prolonged exchanges of gunfire were heard, presumed to have been between officers and the drug gang members who continue to maintain a presence in the shantytown.
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 latest violence took place.