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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK

World: Americas

'Rio murder rate slashed'

Many tourists are afraid to stroll along the beach

By Brazil Correspondent Stephen Cviic

A new report says the number of murders in Rio de Janeiro, one of the world's most violent cities, has fallen by nearly 30% over the past five years.

The report, carried out by a local think tank, gives no single reason for the reduction in violence, but attributes it partly to police action and partly to the campaigning efforts of non-governmental organisations.

Rio de Janeiro is no longer the capital of Brazil, but it is still the country's major tourist attraction.

Over the past 10 years, however, the city's image has taken a severe beating. For many potential foreign visitors, the idea of a stroll along Copacabana beach has been counterbalanced by the fear of being held up at gunpoint.

'Police brutality'

This new study by a think tank linked to the Roman Catholic Church suggests that things are improving. In 1994, out of every 100,000 inhabitants of Rio, 78 met a violent death.

Last year that figure had fallen to 50. In a way, this is a surprise. The violent drug gangs which control Rio's shanty towns are still very much alive, and until recently the city's police force was better known for its brutality than for its efficiency.

However, analysts say a number of factors have contributed to the fall in the number of murders. The local government has invested millions of dollars in an effort to integrate the shanty towns into the urban infrastructure.

Police operations have reduced the extent to which drug-related violence spills over into middle-class areas, and local non-governmental organisations have waged a tireless campaign to persuade people not to carry firearms.

But Rio continues to be a violent place. Its new, lower murder rate is still five times as high as that of New York, and meanwhile, in Brazil's biggest city. Sao Paulo, the tide of murders in poor areas is rising inexorably.

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