Riot police open way for torch through Rio protest

Wed Aug 3, 2016 7:56pm EDT
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By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Police used stun grenades and tear gas to clear protesters in the path of the Olympic torch in a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, two days before South America's first Olympic Games open under tight security.

Olympic Brazilian sailors earlier delivered the torch to the host city's mayor after crossing Guanabara Bay near the end of a 20,000-km (12,400-mile) journey through one of the world's largest and most diverse countries.

The flame landed on terra firma at 9:15 a.m. (08:15 a.m. EDT) while just kilometers away 450 heavily armed police battled drug traffickers to carry out dozens of arrest orders in the Alemao slum, an area near the international airport and close to the main road to Olympic venues.

Armed soldiers stood patrol on highways and on many corners throughout the iconic beach city in Brazil's largest security operation ever. Some 85,000 police, soldiers and security personnel will be deployed in Rio, more than double the amount in London in 2012, to deter both violent street crime and the threat of attacks by extremists.

Police said anti-government protesters in Duque de Caixas, on Rio's north side, threw rocks and blocked the torch's path. Police dispersed them with pepper spray and rubber bullets. A video of the incident spurred social media criticism of the police and amplified complaints that the Games ignored the poor.

A representative for the local organizing committee called the incident isolated and said the protesters had held up the torch but its route was not changed.

Three people were injured by rubber bullets, including a 10-year-old girl, local media reported.

The clash, which came a day after anti-torch protests in nearby towns and amid several days of gang violence in northern Brazil, underscored social tension in the massive country.   Continued...

Mayor Eduardo Paes (C) carries the Olympic torch just after it was transported across Guanabara Bay from Niteroi to Rio de Janeiro three days before the official start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,  August 3, 2016.  Beth Santos/Courtesy of Rio de Janeiro City Hall/Handout via REUTERS