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Rio de Janeiro violence: Brazil army to take control of security

The Brazilian government has appointed an army general to oversee security in the state of Rio de Ja..



The Brazilian government has appointed an army general to oversee security in the state of Rio de Janeiro, in response to growing gang violence.

President Michel Temer compared the violence to "a cancer" and said organised criminals had all but seized control of the state.

Rio's governor issued an appeal for help after the annual carnival celebrations were marred by violence.

The army will oversee police and other security services.

Overseeing the operation will be Gen Walter Souza Braga Netto, head of the Eastern Military Command. He was widely praised for his part in co-ordinating security for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

What led to the situation?

Signing the decree, Mr Termer said he was taking "extreme measures" because circumstances demanded it.

"The government will give tough and firm answers, taking all necessary measures to eradicate organised crime," he said.

There were chaotic scenes during the famous Rio carnival, with gun fights and looting. Three police officers died in violent clashes.

National TV news bulletins also broadcast footage of gangs surrounding and robbing tourists.

With the security situation apparently spiralling out of control, state governor Luiz Fernando Pezao made a plea to the national government saying military intervention was the only way to tackle the heavily armed gangs.

He apologised to those revellers affected, saying: "We were not ready. There were mistakes in the first days and we reinforced the patrols."

Why has the violence worsened?

Rio's police budget has been slashed in recent years because of a financial crisis. There have been criticisms that police do not even have the money to pay for the petrol in their patrol cars.

Finances in Rio state have been badly hit by a national recession and a slump in oil prices, as well as high levels of corruption.

The financial problems have only emboldened criminal gangs.

Figures from the Rio state government show an 8% increase in killings last year over 2016 and a 26% jump since 2015.

'There's no escaping reality'

Julia Carneiro, BBC News, Rio de Janeiro

Stunned, numb, in shock or in denial. Living in Rio brings such mixed feelings today. Life continues as usual in the city and residents go about trying to lead their lives normally.

There's "nothing happening" – until something does. And more and more violence has been getting in the way, with stray bullets killing children in favelas, shoot-outs closing down major highways and mass robberies ruining the fun for several residents and tourists in the middle of the Carnival celebrations.

The saying goes in Brazil that the year starts once Carnival ends, and the intervention announced by the federal government reinforces the feeling that there's no escaping reality.

If Rio already felt misgoverned, the fact that the state governor willingly gave up his power for the president to call the shots in the security arena adds to the feeling of helplessness in the hands of unpopular politicians.

For now, there will be hope that at least something is being done. But Brazilians are weary of big political gestures – especially in the months leading up to a presidential election.

What happens now?

The army regularly patrols some of the most dangerous areas of Rio de Janeiro where drugs gangs hold sway, but now the military presence could be felt all over the city's metropolitan area of 12 million people and the wider state.

Correspondents say it will be the first time the army has had such a high profile since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985, which followed 21 years of military rule.

The move still needs to be approved by Brazil's National Congress.

"Organised crime has almost taken over the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is a cancer that spreads throughout the country and threatens the tranquillity of our people, so we have now enacted the federal intervention of the public security area of ​​Rio de Janeiro," Mr Temer said.

Brazilian media, citing government sources, said the current head of public security, Roberto Sá, would be removed from office.

It is understood Gen Netto will be in charge of Rio state security at least until the end of the year.

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Latin America

Honduras prison violence: Dozens killed in women’s jail riot



At least 46 women have been killed in a riot at a women’s prison in Honduras on Tuesday.

It is understood that a fight broke out between rival gangs, after which one gang set a cell alight.

Officials say most of those who died were killed in the fire but others were shot, stabbed or beaten to death.

An investigation is under way to determine how the inmates managed to smuggle automatic weapons and machetes into the jail.

President Xiomara Castro, who last year launched a crackdown on gangs, said on social media that she was “shocked by the monstrous murder of women” and would take “drastic measures” in response.

She has dismissed Security Minister Ramón Sabillón and replaced him with the head of the national police force, Gustavo Sánchez.

Survivors of the deadly incident told local media that it was triggered by rivalries between two of Central America’s most notorious criminal organisations: the 18th Street Gang and MS-13.

They said members of one gang had been taunting their rivals, who then set fire to the mattresses in the cell holding those taunting them.

Videos posted on social media showed a huge cloud of grey smoke rising from the women’s prison, which is located about 25km north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and holds approximately 900 inmates.

While the warring factions are locked up in different parts of the jail, the wings are located close to each other.

The unrest broke out early in the morning local time on Tuesday.

Survivors said that many of those who died had been seeking refuge from the flames in a bathroom. Their burnt bodies were found piled on top of each other.

Others were shot dead and stabbed by gang members in the corridors and a prison courtyard.

Some of the victims are not thought to have been linked to either of the two gangs but were caught up in the incident.

Among them is a former police cadet who was serving a 15-year prison sentence after confessing to killing a fellow police officer.

Another of those killed was only days away from being released after serving her sentence for kidnapping.

Honduras is known for corruption and gang violence, which have infiltrated government institutions and seen the homicide rate soar.

Along with neighbours El Salvador and Guatemala, the country is a major transit route for cocaine coming from South America to the United States.

It also has a history of deadly prison riots, which are often linked to organised crime.

At least 18 people were killed in gang violence at a prison in the northern port city of Tela in 2019.


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Colombian plane crash: New clues found in search for lost children



A desperate search for four children who have been missing since their plane crashed in the Colombian jungle on 1 May has yielded new clues.

Items belonging to the siblings, who are aged between 11 months and 13 years, have been found in two different locations in the rainforest.

Their mother and the other adults on board the plane died in the crash.

But search teams say small footprints found last week indicate that the children survived the impact.

The footprints were spotted on Thursday and specialists said most likely belonged to the children.

Earlier last week, search teams had found a child’s drinking bottle, a pair of scissors and a hair tie, as well as what appeared to be a makeshift shelter made from branches and a half-eaten passion fruit.

The children belong to the Huitoto indigenous group and members of their community have expressed the hope that their knowledge of fruits and jungle survival skills will have given them a better chance of surviving the ordeal.

But despite more than 100 soldiers combing the jungle, no further traces were found until the early hours of Wednesday.

The latest items were spotted by an indigenous woman some 500m (1,640ft) from the crash site.

She found a dirty nappy, a green towel and shoes, which judging by their size are thought to belong to the second youngest of the missing siblings, who is four years old. The nappy is believed to have been worn by the 11-month-old baby.

At a separate location, the search team found another nappy, a mobile phone case and a pink cap which matches the drinking bottle found last week.

Indigenous people have joined the search and helicopters have been broadcasting a message from the children’s grandmother recorded in the Huitoto language urging them to stay put and to stop moving so as to make them easier to locate.

The latest traces are further indication that the four siblings survived the plane crash which killed their mother and the plane’s pilot and co-pilot, the Colombian army said.

But it warned that the state of the items suggested that they had not been abandoned there recently, but “sometime between 3 and 8 May”.

The army added that it was encouraged by the fact that none of the items showed traces of blood.

The army colonel in charge of the search also said that all indications were that the four children were roaming the jungle on their own.

Last week, Colombia’s president came under criticism when a tweet published on his account announced that the children had been found.

He erased the tweet the next day saying that the information – which his office had been given by Colombia’s child welfare agency – could not be confirmed.


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Pedro I: Emperor’s embalmed heart arrives in Brazil



The embalmed heart of Brazil’s first emperor, Dom Pedro I, has arrived in the capital Brasilia to mark 200 years of independence from Portugal.

The heart, which lies preserved in a flask filled with formaldehyde, was flown on board a military plane from Portugal.

It will be received with military honours before going on public display at the foreign ministry.

The heart will be returned to Portugal after Brazil’s independence day.

Portuguese officials gave the go-ahead for the preserved organ to be moved from the city of Porto for the celebrations of Brazil’s bicentenary.

The organ arrived on a Brazilian air force plane accompanied by the mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira.

Mayor Moreira said it would return to Portugal after having basked “in the admiration of the Brazilian people”.

“The heart will be received like a head of state, it will be treated as if Dom Pedro I was still living amongst us,” Brazil foreign ministry’s chief of protocol Alan Coelho de Séllos said.

There will be a cannon salute, a guard of honour and full military honours.

“The national anthem [will be played] and the independence anthem, which by the way was composed by Dom Pedro I, who as well as an emperor was a good musician in his spare time,” Mr Séllos said.

Dom Pedro was born in 1798 into Portugal’s royal family, which at the time also ruled over Brazil. The family fled to the then-Portuguese colony to evade Napoleon’s invading army.

When Dom Pedro’s father, King John VI, returned to Portugal in 1821, he left the 22-year-old to rule Brazil as regent.

A year later, the young regent defied the Portuguese parliament, which wanted to keep Brazil as a colony, and rejected its demand that he return to his home country.

On 7 September 1822 he issued Brazil’s declaration of independence and was soon after crowned emperor.

He returned to Portugal to fight for his daughter’s right to accede to the Portuguese throne and died aged 35 of tuberculosis.

On his deathbed, the monarch asked that his heart be removed from his body and taken to the city of Porto, where it is kept in an altar in the church of Our Lady of Lapa.

His body was transferred to Brazil in 1972 to mark the 150th anniversary of independence and has been kept in a crypt in São Paulo.

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