Brazil police shoot dead eight in Rio’s biggest slums

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Brazilian police shot dead eight people in one of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest slums on Monday, an official said, just days after figures showed a record number of killings by state officers in the first quarter.

Weapons, cash and drugs were seized during the raid in Mare - a poor, densely populated swathe of the city encompassing various favelas in large part run by heavily-armed drug traffickers.

An elite police unit had been targeting Thomaz Jhayson Vieira Gomes, known as “3N,” who was allegedly planning to attack a favela some 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, police said in a statement.

“The criminals resisted and eight suspected of being involved in trafficking were shot and killed in the confrontation,” the statement said.

It is not clear if Vieira Gomes was among the dead.

Images on social media purportedly showed children fleeing the area where the shooting was happening, while a helicopter could be seen hovering above the community.

Slain black rights activist Marielle Franco, whose assassination last year shocked Brazil and prompted major street demonstrations, was from Mare.

The city council member was shot dead in the center of Rio in what appeared to be a professional hit.

Monday’s police operation comes after the state Institute for Public Safety released figures on Friday showing 434 people were killed during “police intervention” in the first three months - a 17.9 percent increase as compared with the same period in 2018.

That is the highest quarterly figure since record keeping of police-related killings began in 1998.

But the total number of homicides in Rio state, including those committed by police, fell by 18 percent compared to the first three months of last year.

The number went from 1,868 down to 1,528, but the latter is still very high, with an average of 17 people killed each day.

In late March, state Governor Wilson Witzel told O Globo newspaper that police were now using snipers to take out suspects from long distances.

“The order is clear: if someone is carrying an assault rifle, they have to be neutralized in lethal fashion immediately,” Witzel said.

The start of his term has been marked by several major police shootings.

In January, 13 people were shot and killed during a police raid in a slum near downtown Rio, nine of them in the same house.

Justice and Public Safety Minister Sergio Moro recently submitted to congress a bill that among other things would broaden the list of circumstances under which police are allowed to shoot in self-defense.

If the law passes, police will avoid prosecution if they open fire “out of fear, surprise or violent emotion.”

Rights groups report that extrajudicial killings in Brazil have been on the rise in recent years and that police are rarely charged.

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