Crime wave and political unrest plague Rio Olympics




The Olympic Games may have just begun, but crime and an overwhelmed police force threaten to overshadow this celebration of sport in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has deployed 85,000 police and soldiers to combat crime and the threat of terrorism for the Olympics — double the number used in the 2012 London Games – including extra checkpoints, barricades and traffic restrictions. From the shore of the capital’s renowned Ipanema beach, a naval ship can even be seen patrolling in the distance.

Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes declared in the lead-up to the Games that Rio would be the safest place to visit in the world.

Despite this show of force, Rio’s most determined criminals are clearly taking advantage of the mass influx of visitors.

The New York Times reported that in June there were almost 11,000 street robberies – an 81 percent increase compared to the same month last year. Some experts believe the figure could actually be even higher as many victims fail to report crimes as they assume the police will not follow through on their investigations.

It seems even those tasked with ensuring safety aren’t safe, as the chief of security for the opening ceremony was mugged at knife point as he left the Olympic Stadium Friday night.

On Monday a Greek official became the latest victim: he was robbed of $11,000 in electronics equipment.

It followed an assault on Portugal’s education minister on Saturday as he was taking a stroll in an upscale neighbourhood of Rio.

That same night two Australian rowing officials escaped serious injury after being robbed at knifepoint following the opening ceremony. The pair were returning to their accommodation in Ipanema, in the south of the city, at around 8.30pm when they were approached by two Brazilian youths.

In yet another incident, a bomb scare at the finish line of the men’s cycling event scared visitors until authorities confirmed it was a controlled explosion.

With the interplay of international tourists, athletes, officials and ordinary locals it’s hard to know whether a burst of gunfire – a regular occurrence on Rio’s streets – could be a gangland turf war or a security operation.

Such was the case on Saturday night when a stray bullet tore through the media tent at the equestrian event narrowly missing a New Zealand team official and journalists.

A statement by the defence minister on Sunday claimed that the bullet was fired from one of the nearby slums and was aimed at a police drone, which are commonly used by local police to monitor crowds.

Despite assurances that the site was secure, an American photographer who witnessed the incident from inside the tent told Reuters that gunfire could still be heard at the venue the following day.