One dead as violent protests erupt in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO - One person was shot dead as violent protests erupted Tuesday near Rio's famed Copacabana beach after a dancer was killed allegedly by police, less than two months before the World Cup in Brazil.

Angry demonstrators from a slum set ablaze barricades of tires, forcing two main roads closed as they hurled bottles to protest the death of the 25-year-old dancer, whom Brazilian media say was killed after police mistook him for a drug trafficker.

A 27-year-old man described as mentally disabled was killed after being shot in the head during the protests, media quoted city hall officials as saying. It was not immediately clear who fired the shot.

After waves of street protests last year over poor living conditions, the latest unrest was yet another embarrassment for Brazil as the Latin American giant prepares to stage the World Cup in June and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Many in this emerging economic power are outraged that billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure for the games instead of public housing, roads, more aid for the poor and ending violent crime.

The latest trouble began in the early evening in the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela, which nestles above the well-heeled tourist centers of Copacabana and Ipanema, before quickly spreading, witnesses said.

"It started around 5:30 pm. There was smoke everywhere, shots in the street and people racing for their homes," said a young man living just next to the favela, or slum.

Another resident said electricity supplies had been cut in the area and the situation remained tense. The web site G1 reported violence had spilled over into Ipanema as some youngsters went on the rampage there, pursued by police.

'Don't come to the Cup'

Police have been cranking up efforts in recent months to clear favelas of violent criminals before the month-long World Cup kicks off on June 12.

Although a huge slum "pacification" programme was launched six years ago to improve security in the city, the gangs have been fighting back.

Friends of the dancer, Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, alleged that he was caught in a shoot-out on Monday night between police and drug traffickers. He sought refuge in a nursery school in the slum, but was beaten to death, they said.

Police told AFP that evidence suggests the dancer died in a fall.

Da Silva Pereira performed on a programme on TV Globo that was popular with residents of the slum.

The dead man's mother, nurse Maria de Fatima da Silva, said: "He died at one in the morning. More than 12 hours afterwards we got to see the body. He was in a defensive posture, all beaten up." "There were no signs of gunshot wounds," she added, saying that her son had gone to the favela to visit his four-year-old daughter.

One resident of Pavao-Pavaozinho, Daizy Carvalho, who works for a human rights group, said: "He was a mirror for youngsters who are in revolt. What kind of World Cup is this?" she asked.

"The people from the favelas need to unite and come out onto the street," she told AFP, calling on tourists "not to come to the Cup".

Carvalho also claimed that police had insulted her and that one officer said they were going to "kill a young person to set an example."