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Ukraine fights insurgents

Russia announced new military exercises Thursday involving ground and air forces near its border with Ukraine, swiftly responding to a Ukrainian operation to drive pro-Russia insurgents out of occupied buildings in the country's tumultuous east.

The Ukrainian move, which killed at least two people, brought new threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denounced it as a "punitive operation."

"If the Kyiv government is using the army against its own people, this is clearly a grave crime," Putin said.

Putin's statement and the announcement of new military manoeuvrs sharpened anxiety over the prospect of a Russian incursion into Ukraine. Russia's foreign minister warned a day earlier that any attack on Russian citizens or interests in eastern Ukraine would bring a strong response.

Secretary of State John Kerry quickly denounced the Russian actions, and in unusually blunt language warned that unless Moscow took immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, Washington would have no choice but to impose additional sanctions.

"Following today's threatening movement of Russian troops right up to Ukraine's border, let me be clear: If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake," Kerry said. "The window to change course is closing,"

Accusing Russia of fomenting unrest and separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine following its annexation of the strategic Crimean Peninsula, Kerry added: "Nobody should doubt Russia's hand in this."

"What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well-planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia," the U.S. secretary of state said.

Animosity between Moscow and Kyiv has been high since the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych in February in the wake of months of protests. Russia contends the government that took over consists of nationalists who aim to suppress the large Russian-speaking population in Ukraine's east.

In March, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula after its residents voted to split off from Ukraine. Russian troops backed up local militias that blocked off Ukrainian military bases in the run-up to the referendum.

Ukraine's acting president accused Russia of backing the separatists in the east and demanded that Moscow stop its intimidation campaign, and leave his country alone.

Oleksandr Turchynov said in an address to the nation Thursday that Russia was "co-ordinating and openly supporting terrorist killers" in eastern Ukraine, where government buildings in at least 10 cities have been seized by pro-Russia gunmen.

Turchynov said Russia must pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border and "stop the constant threats and blackmail."

His foreign minister, on a visit to Prague, also blasted the Russian decision to start new military manoeuvrs and said his country would fight any invading troops.

"We will now fight with Russian troops if ... they invade Ukraine. Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian army are ready to do this," Andriy Deshchytisa told The Associated Press.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said his forces had cleared city hall in Mariupol of the pro-Russia protesters who had been occupying it for more than a week. He provided no details of the operation in the city, which sits along the main road between mainland Russia and Crimea.

Yulia Lasazan, a spokeswoman for Mariupol's police department, told the AP about 30 masked men armed with baseball bats stormed the building before dawn Thursday and started beating the pro-Russia protesters. Five people were taken to a hospital, she said.

The Canadian Press


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13 hurt in school bus crash

Authorities say at least 13 people are hurt in a school bus crash in Southern California.

Anaheim Fire Marshall Jeff Lutz says at least 13 patients were being treated after the crash reported at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

The extent of the injuries is unclear, but there are no reports of any deaths.

The driver was trapped inside the bus and firefighters were working to remove him.

Television news reports show the bus tilted sideways and leaning against a tree on a roadside embankment.

The Canadian Press


Camilla's brother dies

The Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, are "utterly devastated" by the death of her brother, who fell outside a Manhattan hotel bar and suffered a head injury, British royal officials said.

Mark Shand, chairman of an elephant conservation group, was in New York for a charity auction at Sotheby's.

The New York Police Department said Shand had arrived with a relative at the Rose Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel at about 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Shand, 62, went out to smoke a cigarette at about 2:30 a.m. and fell backward, striking his head as he tried to re-enter through a revolving door, according to police. Officers found him lying on the ground, police said.

He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:25 a.m., police said.

On Thursday, his death was ruled an accident, said Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office. It was caused by blunt impact head trauma with skull fracture and bleeding in the brain, she said.

Shand was known for his work as a travel writer and conservationist. He was the author of several books including "Elephant Tales" and "River Dog: A Journey Down the Brahmaputra."

British royal officials at Clarence House said in a statement that Camilla, Prince Charles and all of her family members are "utterly devastated by this sudden and tragic loss."

"Mark Shand was a man of extraordinary vitality, a tireless campaigner and conservationist whose incredible work through The Elephant Family and beyond remained his focus right up until his death," the statement said.

Sotheby's said it was "deeply saddened" by the news of Shand's death and it was honoured to have helped him raise money for his causes.

The Gramercy Park Hotel, located across the street from its namesake park, carries the intricate woodworking and tapestries of its bars and lounge into the adjacent lobby, where the revolving door deposits guests onto a red carpet monogrammed with the letters GPH.

The storied hotel hosted Humphrey Bogart's 1926 wedding; served as a temporary home for a young John F. Kennedy, the Rolling Stones and U2; and was a hangout for Babe Ruth, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Clash and Bob Marley.

The Canadian Press


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E cigarettes spark interest

The battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapour that users inhale. Some models are disposable, and some are designed to be refilled with cartridges or tanks containing what enthusiasts call "e-juice." Some e-cigarettes are made to look like a real cigarette with a tiny light on the tip that glows like the real thing.

WHAT'S IN THEM: The ingredients in the liquid used in most e-cigarettes include nicotine, water, glycerol, propylene glycol and flavourings. Propylene glycol is a thick fluid sometimes used in antifreeze but also used as a food ingredient.

SELLING POINTS: Users say e-cigarettes address both the addictive and behavioural aspects of smoking. Smokers get their nicotine without the thousands of chemicals found in regular cigarettes. And they get to hold something shaped like a cigarette, while puffing and exhaling something that looks like smoke without the ash, odour and tar.

THE WORRIES: Scientists haven't finished much research on e-cigarettes, their safety and whether they help smokers quit, and the studies that have been done have been inconclusive. The federal government is pouring millions of dollars into research to supplement independent and company studies looking at the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products — as well as who uses them and why.

GROWING MARKET: The industry has rocketed from thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide, leading to the rise of more than 200 brands. Sales have been estimated to reach nearly $2 billion in 2013.

The Canadian Press


Suicide bomber kills 11

A suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a police checkpoint south of Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing at least 11 people, officials said, the latest episode in an uptick in violence in the run-up to next week's parliamentary elections.

The attack struck during the morning rush hour, when the checkpoint at one of the entrances to the city of Hillah, about 95 kilometres south of Baghdad, was crowded with commuters.

Among the 11 killed were seven civilians and four policemen while 27 people were wounded in the bombing, a police officer said. The blast also damaged about 15 cars nearby.

A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Shiite-dominated city of Hillah has seen sporadic violence recently. Last month, a suicide car bomber hit another checkpoint in same area, killing 36 people.

Iraq has seen a spike in violence since last year, with the death toll climbing to its highest levels since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting between 2006 and 2008. The U.N. says 8,868 people were killed in 2013, and more than 1,400 people were killed in the first two months of this year.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaida spin-off group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group and other Sunni militants frequently use car bombs and suicide attacks to target public areas and government buildings in their bid to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Next Wednesday, Iraq is to hold its first parliamentary elections since the U.S. troops' withdrawal in late 2011. More than 9,000 candidates will compete for 328 seats.

The Canadian Press


Exonerated after 24 years

The day Jonathan Fleming was cleared of the murder that put him behind bars for almost 25 years, he strode out of a courthouse to congratulations from passers-by, a steak dinner with his family and the start of a new life.

The weeks since have been a mix of emotional highs and practical frustrations. He spent an evening as a VIP guest at a boxing match and slept that night on a cousin's couch. He marvelled at strangers donating thousands of dollars to help him, but doesn't yet have a place of his own.

He had a first-ever meeting with a son he learned was his while in prison, even as he prepares to visit another son serving a prison term of his own.

"Coming back, you know, it's been hard. ... It's a lot to have to catch up on," Fleming says. But, he says, "I'm looking forward to it. Because I'm just so happy to be out here."

Fleming was cleared April 8 after prosecutors said they now believe what he had been saying all along: that he was on a family vacation in Disney World when a friend was shot dead in Brooklyn in 1989.

Defence investigators located witnesses who said Fleming wasn't the gunman. And prosecutors found previously undisclosed documents in their own files that supported Fleming's alibi, including a hotel phone bill he paid in Orlando, Fla., about five hours before the shooting.

During his years in prison, Fleming wrote letters to prosecutors, meditated, took vocational courses, and logged disciplinary penalties for drug possession, creating disturbances and other infractions. He says he gave up being angry about his conviction but never lost hope he'd be freed.

When the word finally came, "the feeling — you have no idea," he says. "I just sat down on my bed, and I cried."

After dropping into 2014 from 1989, Fleming spent a recent day opening the first bank account he's had in his 51 years, learned to use his new iPhone, and got an email address set up by one of his lawyers.

It has a "14" in it, for the year he was freed.

"Should have said '24' — the years that I did," he said, and laughed.

Fleming is among more than 1,350 inmates exonerated nationwide in the last 25 years. Studies have found those exonerated often confront challenges finding jobs and housing, rebuilding family relationships and grappling with the psychological legacies of their experiences.

One legacy that haunts Fleming is regret over his 33-year-old son in prison, the one he left behind when he was arrested. The Disney World trip had been that son's ninth birthday present.

The Canadian Press


The cat came back

A cat that went missing five years ago has been reunited with its owner in Indiana thanks to an implanted microchip.

WOWO-AM and WANE-TV report the 10-year-old cat named Charlie showed up at Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control on Monday. Workers there scanned the cat and discovered Charlie had a microchip that identified Virginia Fryback of Fort Wayne as his owner.

Fryback says Charlie disappeared from her home five years ago and she thought she'd never see him again. She thanks the veterinarian who convinced her to get a microchip when Charlie was a kitten.

The microchip might have saved Charlie's life. Shelter spokeswoman Peggy Bender says most people adopt much younger cats.

Microchips are about the size of a grain of rice and transmit information via radio waves.

The Canadian Press


Ferry was overloaded

Angry relatives of some of the more than 130 people still missing from the sinking of the ferry Sewol surrounded the fisheries minister and the coast guard chief Thursday, preventing them from leaving the area where families have been waiting for word of their loved ones for more than a week.

It was the latest expression of fury and desperation in a disaster filled with signs that the government did too little to protect passengers. An opposition politician said he has a document showing that the ferry was carrying far more cargo than it should have been.

Relatives of the missing passengers surrounded Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young, coast guard chief Kim Seok-kyun and deputy chief Choi Sang-hwan. The men sat on the ground under a tent where details about the recovered dead — now numbering 171 — are posted.

Some of the family members shouted at the officials, accusing them of lying about the operation, demanding that the search continue through the night and asking why hundreds of civilian divers have not been allowed to join coast guard and navy personnel in searching for bodies. Some of the relatives cried through the tense scene.

"We are doing our work and we, too, feel the way you do," Kim said. "We are trying to bring all the equipment that we can."

About 700 divers are working at the site of the April 16 wreck, said Koh Myung-seok, spokesman for the government-wide emergency task force. He said more than 340 volunteer divers have visited, but only 16 have gone underwater.

Responding to complaints that the volunteers have been underutilized, Koh said some have been allow to dive but "left after taking photos or have come out of the water in less than 10 minutes. As a result, we have decided that civilian divers are slowing down the rescue process" and will not be allowed to participate.

The government has said the search is becoming more difficult because divers must now break through cabin walls to find more bodies. Many of the bodies already retrieved were in a larger lounge area.

Eleven crew members, including the captain, have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need as the ferry sank on its way from Incheon port to the southern island of Jeju. Arrest warrants were issued against four of the crew on Thursday.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors are considering factors including a turn made around the time the ship began listing, wind, ocean currents, modifications made to the ship and the freight it was carrying.

Moon Ki-han, a vice-president at Union Transport Co., which loaded the Sewol's cargo, said it was carrying an estimated 3,608 tons of cargo. That is far more than what the coast guard said Capt. Lee Joon-seok reported in paperwork submitted to the Korea Shipping Association: 150 cars and 657 tons of other cargo. Motor vehicles typically weigh about a ton each.

Lawmaker Kim Yung-rok of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, an opposition party, said he has documents from the Korean Register of Shipping that show the Sewol was carrying more than three and a half times more cargo than regulators allowed. His office released only a portion of the documents to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Kim said a register inspector, examining the ship as it was being modified to carry more passengers, found that its centre of gravity had been raised 51 centimetres (20 inches), and its cargo limit would have to be reduced by more than half, from 2,437 tons to 987 tons. The modifications were made in late 2012 and early 2013.

Shipowner Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd. reported a capacity of 3,963 tons, according to a coast guard official in Incheon who had access to the documentation but declined to release it. That is the same maximum tonnage the ferry had under its previous Japanese owner, "A'' Line Ferry Co., before Chonghaejin modified the vessel, according to Takaharu Miyazono of "A'' Line.

The Canadian Press


New sanctions for Russia

Warning Russia that new economic sanctions are "teed up," President Barack Obama accused Moscow of failing to live up to an agreement last week to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine.

Still, he cautioned that the United States needs to secure the support of allies to ensure that additional economic pressure is even applied. He conceded that new sanctions may not change Russian President Vladimir Putin's geopolitical calculations.

"There are some things the United States can do alone but ultimately it's going to have to be a joint effort, a collective effort," Obama said during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Obama's comments underscored the difficulties he faces in devising a response to Russia's aggressive moves on Ukraine's eastern border and the growing unrest in the country driven by pro-Russian insurgents. He did not put a timeline on when sanctions could be applied, saying only it was a matter of days, not weeks.

Obama complained that militias and armed men continue to take over government buildings in Ukraine in defiance of Ukrainian authorities. Pro-Russian insurgents have been especially active in eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Under an agreement struck last week in Geneva, Russia had agreed to take steps to defuse the tensions.

"So far we have seen them not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva," Obama said. If that continues, he said, "there will be further consequences and we will ramp up further sanctions."

By acknowledging that he still needed co-operation from allies to impose new sanctions, Obama laid bare one of the key obstacles to presenting a united front against Russia. Many European countries rely on Russian energy and fear that increased pressure on Moscow could hurt their own economies.

"It's important to emphasize that throughout this process our goal has been to change Mr. Putin's calculus, that our preference is to resolve this diplomatically, that sanctions hurt Russia more than anybody else but they are disruptive to the global economy," Obama said.

The Canadian Press


UN: Violence must stop

The UN Security Council on Wednesday viewed "horrific pictures of corpses" from the scene of last week's massacre in South Sudan and discussed taking actions that could include sanctions, diplomats said.

The UN has said hundreds of civilians were killed in the massacre last week in Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state. The top UN aid official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, has said "piles and piles" of bodies were left behind.

Security Council members watched a video showing bodies lining a street and the interior of a mosque where civilians had sought shelter from rebel forces taking control from government troops amid ethnic tensions in the world's newest country.

"Horrific pictures of corpses," France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, tweeted from the meeting. "No place safe for refugees."

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the "cycle of violence must stop immediately" and warned that a "humanitarian catastrophe will become even more a certainty" if it doesn't.

Because of the months of fighting, more than 1 million people have fled their homes. With few residents tending crops, UN officials say the country faces a severe risk of famine in the months ahead.

Araud told reporters, "I think we are ready to go down the road of sanctions."

In a tweet after the meeting, US Ambassador Samantha Power called for sanctions on "political spoilers and those who target civilians."

President Barack Obama earlier this month warned that the United States may levy sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, on individuals and entities involved in stoking violence in South Sudan.

The massacre has left diplomats and the UN mission in South Sudan questioning what to do next.

"We have also to face the fact that maybe we can't co-operate with this government anymore," Araud told reporters. "Because atrocities are committed by both sides. So I do think we have to have some soul-searching about what should the UN. do."

Ladsous told the council that neither the South Sudan government nor the rebel forces is sincere in participating in peace talks, but the talks had to be supported as "the only game in town," according to a UN diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. An earlier cease-fire agreement between the sides didn't hold.

Violence has been raging in South Sudan since mid-December. Much of the fighting has been along ethnic lines, with supporters of the president, a Dinka, pitted against supporters of the former vice-president, a Nuer.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Security Council to investigate the killings in Bentiu and said the violence shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control in the landlocked country, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011.

As tensions have risen, the UN mission has faced attack, even as tens of thousands of civilians continue to take shelter inside its bases across the country.

In a statement Wednesday, the mission said South Sudan Minister of Information Michael Lueth was wrong to tell a news conference that residents seeking protection were barred from entering the U.N. camp near the Bentiu massacre scene.

The mission said the numbers of people sheltering inside the base rose from 8,000 on April 15, when the killings started, to about 22,500 by Wednesday.

The U.N. also said Lueth was wrong to suggest that refugees were rebel fighters or sympathizers, and these remarks could encourage attacks on refugees inside UN camps.

___

Anna reported from the United Nations. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

The Canadian Press


The NYPD bashtag

The largest police department in the U.S. learned the hard way that there are legions online devoted to short-circuiting even the best-intentioned public relations campaign — in this case, the NYPD's Twitter invitation to people to post feel-good photos of themselves posing with New York's Finest.

What #myNYPD got instead was a montage of hundreds of news images of baton-wielding cops arresting protesters, pulling suspects by the hair, unleashing pepper spray and taking down a bloodied 84-year-old man for jaywalking.

It was a mistake of epic proportions, with the hashtag among the most-trafficked in the world Tuesday, creating a public relations nightmare for a new NYPD leadership intent on creating a more community-friendly force.

"When you're in the social space, it's tough to predict what's going to happen," said Glen Gilmore, who teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University.

A similar meltdown came last November when investment giant JP Morgan Chase, which had been paying billions in fines stemming from the financial crisis, asked followers on Twitter to post career advice questions. Among them: "Did you have a specific number of people's lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?"

McDonald's inadvertently ordered up some bad publicity in 2012 with its #McDStories campaign. Sample response: "I walked into a McDonald's and could smell the Type II diabetes."

The #myNYPD misfire comes at a time when new Police Commissioner William Bratton is trying to re-brand the department to counter criticism that it has been trampling on people's civil rights. Last week, it disbanded an intelligence unit that spied on Muslim neighbourhoods, and it has promised to reforms to the crime-fighting tactic known as stop and frisk.

Bratton acknowledged Wednesday that the Twitter campaign may not have been fully thought through.

"Was that particular reaction from the some of the police adversaries anticipated? To be quite frank, it was not," Bratton said. "But at the same time it's not going to cause us to change any of our efforts to be very active on social media. ... It is what it is. It's an open, transparent world."

The #myNYPD traffic was holding steady on Wednesday, but the dialogue had shifted from mockery of the NYPD to an analysis of what went wrong, including the tweet "Social Media 101: Be careful what you ask for."

Anthony Rotolo, a professor of digital communications at Syracuse University, suggested another appropriate response could have been #SMH — shake my head.

"A lot of time the eagerness to embrace social media tools overshadows our common sense," Rololo said. "In other types of media, we would not so quickly jump to something like this without doing our groundwork first."

Still, there was some evidence Wednesday that the outreach may bear fruit.

One person posted a photo of herself standing next to an officer on horseback in Times Square. Another posted a picture of two smiling officers on patrol and wrote, "These guys put their lives on the line every day. They deserve our respect and gratitude."

___

Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

The Canadian Press


4th graders deal pot

School officials in northern Colorado are asking parents to take care with their newly legal recreational marijuana, after fourth graders were caught dealing the drug on an elementary school campus.

John Gates, director of safety for Weld County School District 6, said Wednesday that the students involved, three 10-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl at Greeley's Monfort Elementary School, faced tough discipline but not suspension or expulsion. He would not elaborate on their punishment.

Only one student admitted to trying any of the drug, a small bite of an edible marijuana item, and a subsequent medical exam did not indicate any harmful effect had been caused, Gates said.

The marijuana appears to have been legally purchased by adults — grandparents in two families — and no charges were expected to be filed, Gates said. He said the parents of the students were concerned and working with the school on discipline.

Gates said a student who was not involved alerted school officials that a student sold marijuana to other students on Monday, and that on Tuesday a student tried to trade edible marijuana for some of the student seller's marijuana.

"This could not have happened had they secured their marijuana," Gates said of the grandparents, urging adults to take care with the drug. "Nothing good's going to come from having 10-year-olds find it, use it or take it to school."

In a letter sent home Tuesday, Monfort Principal Jennifer Sheldon told parents that because it's easier for adults to get marijuana, children potentially have greater access. Denver TV station KDVR posted the letter on its website:

"We urge all parents, grandparents and anyone who cares for children to treat marijuana as you would prescription drugs, alcohol or even firearms. This drug is potentially lethal to children, and should always be kept under lock and key, away from young people."

Gina Carbone, who helped found the group Smart Colorado to publicize concerns about the impact on children of marijuana legalization, applauded Sheldon's letter. Days after tens of thousands publicly lit up for the annual 4/20 marijuana festival in Denver, Carbone said children and adults were hearing too from marijuana proponents, and not enough about the drug's dangers.

"Pot is celebrated and glorified and promoted. Kids are watching adults and this is the way adults are behaving," she said. "Here we have 4th graders trying to make a buck off marijuana."

While advocates say marijuana need not be treated as a dangerous drug and that its legal sale will have economic benefits, the experiment has so far been a challenge for Colorado.

Denver police say a man ate marijuana-infused candy before shooting and killing his wife last week, an attack that dispatchers heard during a 911 call the woman placed.

Her death followed that of a Wyoming college student who ate well over the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumped to his death from a hotel balcony in Denver.

State lawmakers are debating how to increase safety regulations, and grappling with how to plan budgets amid concerns marijuana tax collections will be unpredictable.

The Canadian Press


Abducted boy saved by song

A 9-year-old boy who police say was abducted for a short time from his driveway is being praised by community leaders for his calm as he sang the gospel song "Every Praise" until the man released him.

Willie Myrick recounted the story at a recent gathering in his honour. He says as he sang, the man drove around and was cursing before eventually letting him go unharmed last month.

WXIA-TV reports that Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Hezekiah Walker, who performed the song, travelled to Atlanta to meet the boy.

Walker says he believes God spoke through him to save the boy's life.

Police have a sketch of the suspect and are searching for him.

More details on what the boy told police about what happened on March 31 weren't available.

Below, Hezekiah Walker sings Every Praise.

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The Canadian Press


Violence spills out of slum

Rio de Janeiro slum erupted in violence late Tuesday following the killing of a popular local figure, with angry residents setting fires and showering homemade explosives and glass bottles onto a busy avenue in the city's main tourist zone.

Intense exchanges of gunfire were heard when members of an elite police moved into the Pavao-Pavaozinho slum, which lies a few hundred yards (meters) from where Olympic swimming events are expected to take place in 2016. Residents blame police for the killing of the local man, whose body was found earlier in the day.

The O Globo newspaper, citing local health officials, reported that another resident of the slum was shot and killed, and a 12-year-old boy shot and wounded, during Tuesday night's gunfire. It's not clear who fired the shots that hit either, nor did police confirm the reports.

It was the latest violence to hit one of Rio's so-called "pacified" slums — impoverished areas that for decades were controlled by drug gangs.

Police began an ambitious security program in 2008 to drive the gangs from such slums and for the first time set up permanent posts. It is part of Rio's overall security push ahead of the World Cup that begins this June and the Olympics the city will host.

So far, 37 such "police pacification units" have been created covering an area with a population of 1.5 million people.

But there have been repeated complaints of heavy-handed police tactics that have ended in the deaths of residents, and that is what set-off the latest clashes, resident said. More than two dozen police face charges from a high-profile case in a different shantytown, when investigators said a local man died while being tortured by police.

Slum residents have also lamented the lack of social services that had been promised to arrive along with the police presence in their communities.

Tuesday's violence erupted after the body of 25-year-old Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira was found. He was a well-known figure in the community, as he was a dancer on a TV show for Brazil's Globo network, the nation's largest channel. The circumstances of his death aren't clear, but residents blame police.

"The police beat my friend to death, just like they've tortured and killed in other communities," said Johanas Mesquita, a 23-year-old resident of Pavao-Pavaozinho. "This effort to pacify the favelas is a failure, the police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before."

Police on the scene refused to answer questions about what prompted the violence. A spokeswoman reached by telephone said they didn't have an immediate statement.

The Canadian Press




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