Rio Holds Emergency Talks on Street Clashes Ahead of Pope Visit

Rio de Janeiro’s state government held emergency security talks after violence erupted in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods last night, as it prepares to host Pope Francis in his first international trip next week.

Governor Sergio Cabral gathered his security advisers and police chiefs today to discuss the looting and vandalism in the southern zone of Brazil’s second-biggest city, the state government said in an e-mailed statement. Protesters in the Leblon district, close to the governor’s residence, blocked streets and burned trash, waving banners calling on Cabral to step down. Later, vandals smashed bank and store windows, TV images showed. The police arrested 15 people last night.

The unrest takes place as Rio readies for the arrival of Pope Francis on July 22 to participate in World Youth Day, a event that has prompted the state government to adopt what it considers the most complex security measures in its history. About 2 million people are expected to take part in next week’s event, which draws Catholics from all over the world.

Rio and the security forces have a plan in place for Francis’ visit and the government is “paying attention” to possible protests, Jose Mariano Beltrame, Rio state’s security secretary, told reporters today in a press conference.

“There is no problem, we are ready to greet the Pope,” he said.

Brazilians held the country’s biggest protests in two decades last month, with more than a million people demonstrating on the streets to demand better public services and to complain about the government spending almost 30 billion reais ($13.5 billion) on the soccer World Cup next year.

Groups of protesters have been camping in front of Cabral’s residence in Leblon since June when an increase in bus fares sparked weeks of demonstrations throughout Latin America’s most populous country. The governor blamed political adversaries for instigating the protests at his house in an interview published by Rio-based newspaper O Globo.

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