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7 Dead After Clashes In Rio De Janeiro


Officials in Brazil are investigating the deaths of seven men in Rio de Janeiro. Bodies were recovered from the sea yesterday after a weekend shootout near a big tourist attraction. NPR's Philip Reeves says the case highlights an epidemic of violence. And a warning, this report includes audio of gunfire.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Rio is a violent city. Everyone knows that. Yet, this is unusual.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: This shootout is close to Rio's Sugarloaf Mountain, an area that draws tourists from across the world, and part of the city that's generally considered safe. People dived for cover behind cars and buildings and filmed the shooting using their phones.


REEVES: You're listening to cellphone footage.


REEVES: The cable car that carries people to the top of the mountain to enjoy fabulous views had to be closed for a while.

Sugarloaf Mountain's a big granite mound covered in tropical forest that stands on a peninsula overlooking Rio's Guanabara Bay. It's next to this small but popular beach. At the far end of the beach stands another big granite mound, also covered in forest, that juts into the sea. That's where the shooting occurred.

The firefight reportedly involved the police and alleged drug gang members fleeing to nearby shantytowns known as favelas after the security services last week launched an operation to flush them out. The shooting happened Friday, although news of fatalities only emerged yesterday when the bodies of seven men were recovered, six from the sea.

Shootings happen every day in Rio. According to Fogo Cruzado, an organization that monitors them, there were 85 in and around the city from Friday through Sunday. Yet, this shooting, at a place that symbolizes the city, has come as a shock to many.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: People on the beach by Sugarloaf Mountain were, today, still processing it.

GILVAN DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Everyone's sad about what happened," says Gilvan da Silva. Da Silva's worked on the beach for 20 years selling coconuts and caipirinhas, the traditional Brazilian cocktail.

DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Business has dropped off in the last few days," says da Silva, "because tourists aren't coming."

Four months ago, Brazil's president, Michel Temer, placed the army in charge of Rio's security. His critics say this failed to bring any improvement. It won't escape their notice that the shootout near Sugarloaf Mountain happened close to an area containing several important military complexes. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF KANYE WEST'S "SAINT PABLO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.