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Street children killed

STREET children in Rio de Janeiro watching over the body of a companion murdered yesterday by a death squad attack which left at least eight children dead. Brazil's Justice Minister has ordered an investigation. Children who escaped the massacre blamed police for the killings. As many as 25 children may have died in the night of violence in the city, the Estado news service said, quoting Ivone Mello, a social worker known for the assistance she gives to the children. Human rights groups have long claimed that shopkeepers hire death squads to eliminate street children suspected of stealing. The squads include retired or off-duty policemen. The survivors turned to Ms Mello for help.

Six of the children were murdered beside Rio's most famous church, the Candelaria. Although the church square is on one of the city's main avenues, at night it becomes a no man's land. One teenage boy said he witnessed the Candelaria massacre from the top of an outdoor newsstand where he was sleeping. He identified one of the killers as a state policeman who had threatened the children earlier. 'The boy said (the policeman) drove by and tried to remove them,' a social worker said. 'Someone threw a rock and broke the car's windshield, and that may have touched it off.'

Another child, aged 15, said two of his younger brothers were killed. 'We are afraid but we have nowhere to go,' said the boy, who has been sleeping outside the church since he was 10 years old.

(Photograph omitted)