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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 13:26 GMT
Massive security for Rio carnival
Carnival preparations
Carnival work goes on, despite violence fears
Police in Brazil police have launched a huge security operation to protect the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which has been threatened by spiralling violence between drugs gangs.

The authorities in Rio have asked for the army to be deployed, and up to 28,000 police are to be put on the streets to protect the carnival, which begins on Friday.

The drugs gangs have burned and machine-gunned buses, attacked police posts and set off small bombs in a beachfront area where hotels are packed with tourists.

"They've chosen the worst moment," said Jose Eduardo Guinle, head of the state tourism agency.

"Carnival has to be celebrated without a hitch. This is our big chance to recover the image of the city abroad."

Show of force

The Rio authorities blame the city's largest drug gang, the Red Command, for the current surge in violence, saying the orders were given by its leader, Fernandinho Beira-Mar - known as Seaside Freddy - who is currently in jail.

The gang is apparently reacting to tough police action threatening their control of many shanty towns.

Carnival dancer
Officials believe carnival will be trouble-free
Such attacks have happened before and are usually designed as a show of force if police action threatens to undermine the balance of power in Rio, according to the BBC's correspondent in Brazil, Tom Gibb.

But the latest violence has hit upscale areas of the city usually immune from gang-related incidents.

And, coming during the traditional festival - which is celebrated with fancy-dress parades, music and dancing - it is a blow to the city's reputation.

Social control

Police shot dead two gang leaders during a raid at the start of the security operation and captured mortars and automatic weapons.

Some crime experts believe the gangs might also be trying to distract police from big drug or arms shipments, or showing their strength in order to demand better conditions for some of their bosses in prison.

"Criminals have acquired social control through the dissemination of fear," said Walter Maierovitch, head of Brazilian Institute for Crime Research.

The violence comes as 400,000 tourists mingle in Rio for the carnival - traditionally a time when enemies put down their weapons and pick up drums to take part in the samba parades.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Brazil
04 Jan 03 |  Country profiles
Rio carnival reaches fever pitch
11 Feb 02 |  Entertainment


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