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Leftist city councillor, activist gunned down in Rio

3 min

Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

A leftist city councilwoman and outspoken critic of police brutality in Rio de Janeiro's violent slums was shot dead in the city center in an assassination-style killing.

The late Wednesday attack against Marielle Franco, 38, came despite army intervention to control Rio's soaring crime rate, and sparked immediate outrage.

Protest rallies were called for Thursday.

Franco, from the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), was hit by several bullets after the attacker pulled up next to her car and opened fire. Her driver was also killed and an aide was injured before the assailant or assailants drove off, without attempting to rob their victims.

Police said they were investigating whether this was a targeted assassination.

Amnesty International called for a rigorous probe focusing on "the context, motive and responsibility" for the killing.

Social media lit up with calls for demonstrations Thursday outside City Hall and elsewhere in Rio.

"March against black genocide! WE ARE ALL Marielle Franco," said one appeal, which in a matter of hours drew pledges from some 20,000 people to attend the rally.

- Critic of police killings -

Franco, 38, was born and raised in a network of favelas, or slums, called Mare, one of the city's most violent areas.

As a black woman who got the fifth highest vote count in Rio's 2016 council elections, Franco stood out in the region's male- and white-dominated politics.

She had also become a leading voice against the excesses of Rio's police force, which is routinely accused by major human rights organizations of extrajudicial killings, falsifying evidence and corruption.

Just a day before her death Franco blamed police for the latest killing of a young man in a favela, where police, shadowy militias and heavily armed drug gangs wrestle for control.

"Another killing of a young man that could be chalked up to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many more will have to die for this war to end?" she tweeted.

A few days earlier she tweeted about a poor neighborhood, Acari, where she said the local police unit acted as a death squad.

They're known as "the death Battalion. They come to carve up the population! They come to kill our young!" she tweeted.

- Suffering Olympic city -

The killing comes as the recent military takeover of security in Rio appears to be showing few positive results.

The city has been mired in violence for decades but the security situation has worsened dramatically since the end of the Olympic Games in 2016.

Last month, President Michel Temer ordered the military to take command of Rio city and state police.

Generals are now in charge of nearly all branches of the local security services and soldiers and heavy equipment regularly deploy to support police during sweeps of favelas, where gangs of traffickers are often in control.

The military intervention has sparked widespread concern, including from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, who said soldiers "are not specialized in public security or investigation."

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