Brazilians demand end to violence in nationwide day of protest

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The Independent US

The faces of the dead stare out from the Mural of Pain, stretching 500 feet (150 meters) in downtown Rio - the centerpiece of a nationwide protest against violence Friday that brought thousands of demonstrators into the streets of cities across Brazil.

The faces of the dead stare out from the Mural of Pain, stretching 500 feet (150 meters) in downtown Rio - the centerpiece of a nationwide protest against violence Friday that brought thousands of demonstrators into the streets of cities across Brazil.

Led by human rights groups, the protest called "Basta! Eu Quero Paz" - or "Enough! I Want Peace" in Portuguese - featured a day of marches, rallies and services. Organizers asked Brazilians to wear white and to light a candle in a window at 7 p.m.

Violence is nothing new in Brazil, but there is a sense that it is getting worse.

The murder rate in Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, jumped 9 percent last year to a record 5,705 homicides, according to government figures. Murder is now the No. 3 cause of death in Sao Paulo, after heart attack and stroke.

In Rio de Janeiro, there are 69 murders for every 100,000 residents, according to official figures - an annual rate that is among the highest in the world.

On the mural in Rio's downtown Carioca Square, the victims of violence smile from baby pictures and holiday snapshots, in swimsuits and graduation gowns. Police officers killed on duty are lined up, row after row. People paused Friday to examine the faces, put up new ones or just quietly cry.

"This does not resolve the problem, of course," said Edilson Matos, a designer of the mural. "But if people are touched, it could alleviate it just a little."

In Sao Paulo, grade school children painted panels and banners with peace messages that were draped around downtown Se Plaza. A multi-religious service was scheduled during the evening, and organizers planned to distribute 10,000 candles and release thousands of white balloons.

Similar marches and demonstrations were held in a dozen other state capitals.

"The response has been tremendous. We've already run out of space on the mural," said Rubem Cesar Fernandes, head of the rights group Viva Rio.

A series of recent high-profile crimes shocked the country into a consensus that something must be done.

In June, Brazilians watched in horror as a live TV broadcast showed a kidnapper seizing a Rio city bus and threatening to kill passengers. When police botched a rescue attempt, the kidnapper killed a young woman hostage, then was smothered to death in the police paddy wagon after he was arrested.

Days later, the government proposed a dlrs 1.7 billion anti-crime package that would sharply limit gun sales, hire 2,000 new federal agents, better train and equip police and improve lighting in neighborhoods across the country. While most measures must be approved by Congress, gun sales were immediately suspended for six months.

"Society is demanding from all of us a quicker response," President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said in announcing the measures. 'loss of her niece Soraya, stabbed to death by her husband in front of their three children. Wearing a T-shirt stamped with Soraya's smiling face, she looked at the mural Friday and talked about peace.

"I used to feel such anger, but I know I cannot raise her children in an atmosphere of anger and hate," Carneiro said.

She gestured at the panel of faces, noting they were only a small percentage of the city's victims of violence.

"They are not even 10 percent, but this helps us to spread the word," she says. "Peace is not for now, but for the future. We are working for our children, maybe our grandchildren."

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