Rio celebrates relatively peaceful New Year’s arrival

Posted On January 2, 2007

Filed under News Americas

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Millions of people flocked to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches on New Year’s Eve, brushing aside fears sparked by gang attacks that left 19 dead last week.

Although police reported several shootings, the violence was a far cry from the gang attacks that saw eight people burned to death on an interstate bus Thursday and gangs spraying police stations with automatic weapons fire.

Four people were wounded early Monday by stray bullets around Rio’s Copacabana beach district, where an estimated two million people crowded to watch 22 minutes of fireworks and listen to live music. A woman was killed by a stray bullet in the nearby Rocinha shantytown.

Police said the bullets were likely from guns fired into the air in the surrounding shantytowns during the fireworks celebrations. All of those wounded were expected to survive.

In another incident, an off-duty police man shot and killed two men who were part of a group allegedly vandalizing a bus in the city center. Rio’s newly elected governor Sergio Cabral held a minute of silence for the victims of last week’s attacks at his swearing-in ceremony Monday.

“These cowards will have the response of a serious government that demands order,” Cabral said in his inauguration speech, taking a jab at his predecessor, Gov. Rosinha Matheus, who had long declined federal offers of assistance in combating the drug gangs that control many of the city’s nearly 700 shantytowns.

Cabral said he planned to ask the federal government for help in the coming days. Rio de Janeiro state deployed more than 21,000 police to keep the peace during the New Year’s Eve celebrations. About 1.5 million people also crowded Ipanema beach to watch the U.S. hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas perform.

“It’s a violent city, but you can’t let that stop you from living your life,” said 22-year-old Claudia de Oliveira Conceicao, who attended the concert on Ipanema beach with several friends.

Last week’s attacks have been attributed to Rio’s drug gangs responding to increased pressure from militias, reportedly run by off-duty police officers. But authorities say the attacks are a show of force before Monday’s inauguration of the new governor and that they are being ordered by jailed gang leaders who control “soldiers” on the outside. Rio is one of the most violent cities in the world, with a homicide rate of 50 per 100,000 people.