Rio police out in force for Stones' extravaganza

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The Independent US

Yet, in the city with the highest murder rate in the world, not everyone is invited and thousands of police have been moved into Rio's notorious slums, the favelas. Some 6,000 military police will be involved in a massive security operation and officers from surrounding states of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo will be shipped in to the tourist city.

There was a violent clash involving rival drug-trafficking gangs on Wednesday in Rocinha, Rio's largest favela, south of the city, not far from Copacabana beach.

The Stones have chosen Rio as the venue for the halfway show in their world tour, and the city holds particular memories for Mick Jagger, whose seven-year-old Brazilian son, Lucas, born after a fling with a Brazilian model, will be in the crowd.

With hundreds of VIPs descending on the beach area, police occupied three nearby favelas yesterday, and as many as 20 others in areas neighbouring the bus station, airport and other tourist destinations. They will remain there until tomorrow.

More than 2,000 police will patrol the beach, while others monitor the situation from 23 observation towers and a squad of helicopters. Thousands of other police will be present in the city in an effort to ensure the safety of millions of tourists and residents in Rio this weekend.

Marcelo Itagiba, the state public security secretary, has criticised the choice of venue, which he believes could lead to violence, and condemned promoters for failing to help fund the security operation. "We were provided with a ready-made package from the Rio administration and the show's producers," he said.

"But I don't think it is the most appropriate location either in terms of security or in terms of consideration for the local residents. This is not a quiet, tranquil show. It is the classic rock 'n' roll of the Stones but that doesn't make it classical music."

Mr Itabiga also believes that the concert will be "more dangerous" than the famous carnival, as everyone will be concentrated on the beachfront.

While New Year celebrations also attract millions, where people dress in white according to Brazilian tradition, they celebrate in a much more peaceful way, added the secretary.

However Dr Silvia Ramos, a leading public security expert at Candido Mendes University in Rio, said that the police should be careful about sending out the wrong signal with a heavy-handed security presence.

"There is a great deal of insecurity in the favelas because of drug-trafficking and it is a complicated situation," she said. "I actually do not believe there will be security problems. This is a very democratic event - everyone is free to come and they surely will because they are very curious about it."

While the police make their own preparations, the rest of Rio is getting ready to party, with thousands of Brazilian and international tourists making their way to the city.

A massive stage has been constructed on the beach opposite the elegant and historic Copacabana Palace Hotel where the Rolling Stones will stay. Hotels, rented apartments and hostels across the city are also booked solid for the event, which comes less than a week before the start of the carnival, Brazil's biggest annual five-day party.