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Brazil no Iraq or Afghanistan: sports minister Rebelo admits World Cup faces serious security problems

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 7, (AFP): Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo admitted Tuesday the World Cup faced “serious” security problems — but said the country was not a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan. Riots rocked Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana Beach district last month and fears about safety for thousands of football fans visiting Brazil were heightened last week by the fatal shooting of man during a clash with police close to the England team hotel in the city. “We all have our tragedies and challenges, serious problems relating to security,” said Rebelo as he embarked on a spirited defense of Brazil, which is racing to be ready to host the World Cup from June 12 and has had to deal with years of negative press headlines.
But calling for perspective, he said: “I don’t think the English will confront greater threats in Manaus than in the Iraqi provinces or Afghanistan, where they recently lost hundreds of young soldiers.”

He did though concede that in Rio in particular, which hosts seven games including the final on July 13, there is “day-to-day civil violence ... but we are taking precautions.” That includes drafting a huge security force of 150,000 police and 20,000 private security agents for a tournament expected to attract some three million Brazilians and 600,000 foreign tourists. Rio authorities deployed 2,000 more police this week — earlier than scheduled — after the clashes between military police and residents of a slum just a short walk from the Copacabana Beach tourist drag. Copacabana will host Rio’s “fan fest” parties during the World Cup for ticketless supporters staying in a city whose huge slums are havens of gang violence and drug trafficking which police are struggling to contain.

Rebelo also took aim at the British tabloid media for stories about crime in Manaus — where England open their tournament campaign against Italy on June 14. One report last year headlined “Murderous Manaus” described the city as “one of the deadliest places on earth” with a homicide rate of three murders per day — triple that of Rio. England coach Roy Hodgson admitted his team had wanted to avoid the venue, not least for its energy-sapping Amazon heat. “The English got used to hot temperatures during the colonial era — and the Iraq war,” Rebelo said in a not-so-subtle dig. While saluting Brazil’s “firm links with Britain,” he could not resist an additional barb.

Noting the northeastern coastal city of Recife hosts a British cemetery, a relic of a sea-faring colonial power’s historic tropical adventures, he said: “I don’t think its population will rise because of the World Cup!”
Rebelo said violence had rocked several sporting events around the world in the past, citing the Munich Olympics massacre and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, as well as suicide bombings in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics in February. France also got the Rebelo treatment for “frequent problems in the metro” in Paris — while social problems sometimes had seen its suburbs erupt “in flames.”

Promising “modern, sophisticated” security for the World Cup, Rebelo said Brazil would cope with popular protests expected to occur during the event — some Brazilians have slammed corruption and the Cup costs, estimated at more than $11 billion. “Brazil has constitutional protection for demonstrations but the law prohibits violent protests,” he warned. “We will do everything to protect the population. We have our deficiencies but will tackle the problems and overcome them.”

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