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Police and protesters clash as Olympic torch passes through Rio

Yasuyoshi Chiba, AFP | An Olympic torch bearer runs past the crowds as the Olympic flame is paraded through Rio de Janeiro on August 3, 2016

Police used rubber bullets and pepper spray against protesters as the Olympic torch passed through a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, two days before South America's first Olympic Games open under tight security.


Some 85,000 police, soldiers and security personnel will be deployed in Rio, more than double the amount in London in 2012, to deter protests, street crime and the threat of attacks by extremists.

Police dispersed anti-government protesters in Duque de Caixas, on Rio's north side, after they allegedly threw rocks and blocked the torch's path. A video of the incident spurred social media criticism of the police and amplified complaints that the Games ignored the poor.

A representative for the local organizing committee called the incident isolated and said the protesters had held up the torch but its route was not changed.

Three people were injured by rubber bullets, including a 10-year-old girl, local media reported.

“This is not the kind of thing organizers want the world to see at this stage, with the Games about to begin,” said France 24 corresponder Richard Tompsett.

“This was after all a very important day, the day the Olympic torch arrived in Rio de Janeiro, crossing from the other side of the Guanabara Bay,” he said.

Olympic Brazilian sailors earlier delivered the torch to the host city's mayor after crossing the bay near the end of a 20,000-km journey through Latin America’s biggest country.

Public holiday declared

The world's largest sporting event comes to Brazil at a challenging time, in the midst of the country's worst recession in at least a quarter century and an impeachment trial of a suspended president.

Many residents struggling with the dire economy question the wisdom of hosting the Olympics, a bid Brazil won in 2009 while the economy was booming.

"The Olympics is a waste of time. The Games did not bring any benefits to Rio de Janeiro," said waiter Adriano Souza, 25, lamenting the lack of public transportation to get around the sprawling, mountainous city.

Residents have faced hours of traffic jams in recent days as new express bus lanes ferrying athletes and visitors to sport venues take up highway space, leading Mayor Eduardo Paes to declare a fourth city holiday of the Games.

“We can expect security to be tight when the torch relay resumes. Thursday has declared a public holiday at the last minute to ensure its smooth passage around Rio,” Tompsett added.

In addition to balking at the $12 billion price tag, protesters are calling for more accountability from elected officials after a massive corruption scandal focused on the state oil company ensnared dozens of high-level politicians.


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