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Deadly Rio police raid brings crowds into streets of quarantined favela

A deadly police raid in Rio de Janeiro on Friday morning drew crowds into the streets of a neighbourhood under quarantine, provoking criticism from residents and activists.

According to a Reuters witness and media reports, heavily armed Rio police targeting suspected drug traffickers entered the city’s sprawling “favela” shantytown known as Complexo do Alemao and killed at least 10 people.

When a Reuters photographer arrived shortly afterward, residents had carried five bodies to the entrance of the favela. Dozens of residents, most of whom had no masks or any other protective equipment, were gathered in a tight intersection under a drizzle. Acquaintances and family members of the dead embraced and consoled one another.

“Social distancing? For who?” asked Fábio Felix, a left-wing lawmaker, on Twitter. “It’s incredible that the lives of the poor aren’t worth anything, even during a pandemic!”

Several residents complained that the government was offering little aid to battle the novel coronavirus, but was still engaging in violent police operations that risked spreading the virus through low-income communities.

They also complained that police had left the favela, without bringing the five bodies.

In statements to local media, police said the officers involved were being interviewed by homicide detectives, following standard practice. Some bodies were left as police officers were under heavy grenade and gunfire, they said, adding that five injured suspects were taken to a hospital, where they died.

One police officer was injured.

Police did not immediately respond to a separate comment request from Reuters.

The city of Rio had registered 1,509 deaths from the coronavirus and 11,264 confirmed cases by Thursday evening, according to municipal authorities, who say those figures are likely undercounting the outbreak due to a lack of testing.

Police violence has been rising rapidly in Brazil, where authorities including President Jair Bolsonaro have encouraged police to kill more. In violent Rio, police killed 1,810 people in 2019, the highest number since record-keeping began in 1998.

“Within and outside the context of a pandemic, we demand that public security authorities respect human rights while policing,” the Brazilian office of Amnesty International wrote on Twitter.