Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Brazil samba school leader slain in Rio

Brazil samba school leader slain in Rio

By MICHAEL ASTOR, Associated Press Writer 31 minutes ago

A leader of one of Rio's premiere samba parade groups was shot to death early Wednesday, just days before the city's famed Carnival celebrations.

Guaracy Paes Falcao, 42, vice president of the samba school Salgueiro, was killed in his car by unidentified gunmen before dawn while leaving the group's headquarters with a woman, who was also shot to death, police spokesman Renato Barone said.

Barone would not say whether authorities had suspects.

The killings came a day after police entered a Rio slum and clashed with drug gangs in shootouts that killed six people, including at least four suspected gang members.

Also Wednesday, more than 600 people attended a Mass for a 6-year-old boy who was dragged to death by thieves trying to steal his mother's car. Police have arrested five suspects, one of whom is 16.

After the Mass, the demonstrators took to the streets shouting "Peace" and "Justice."

Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral said he will soon deliver a letter to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, signed by the boy's parents and other crime victims, demanding that Brazilian states be given more power to harshly punish juvenile offenders. "Enough war, we want peace," the letter says.

Rio has suffered deadly clashes recently between police, drug gangs and so-called militias made up of off-duty officers who have expelled gangs from about 90 of the city's 600 slums. The militias have managed to reduce drug-related violence but are charging residents and business owners for protection.

Virtually all the recent violence has been confined to "favelas," vast shantytowns and slums where millions of poor people live. Little if any has spilled over into well-heeled beach areas where more than 600,000 Brazilian and foreign tourists are expected to start gathering in coming days to celebrate Carnival.

Wednesday's shooting happened in Tijuca, a middle-class neighborhood surrounded by slums on the city's north side.

The city's samba schools kick off the traditional Carnival parade in this city's "Sambadromo" stadium Sunday. Other celebrations begin as early as Thursday.

Another Salgueiro leader who was one of Falcao's cousins, Waldemir Garcia, was killed three years ago in Rio. Garcia had been an alleged kingpin of an illegal numbers game.

Police did not suggest a motive yet for Falcao's death, but local media reported there had been a long history of bad blood between Garcia and Falcao, and it's long been an open secret that Rio's annual samba parade — the centerpiece of Carnival celebrations — is funded by the numbers game bosses.


Associated Press Writer Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed to this report.

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