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Two ex-police officers arrested over murder of Brazilian politician | World news

Category: Political Protests,Politics

Two former police officers have been arrested over of murder of the Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco, two days before the first anniversary of a death that sparked international outrage.

Franco, a groundbreaking politician who was born in one of Rio’s largest favelas and became a voice for the city’s disadvantaged, was killed in a drive-by shooting, along with her driver, Anderson Gomes.

The 38-year-old had criticised police killings in the favelas where she grew up and took part in a 2008 state legislature inquiry into the paramilitary gangs that dominate large areas of Rio state. Known as militias, these groups often include police officers.

The suspects were identified as Ronnie Lessa, a retired military police officer, and Élcio Vieira de Queiroz, a former police officer.

“Two police officers were arrested with a direct and effective participation in the crime,” said Marcus Vinícius Braga, the Rio de Janeiro state police secretary. “With the these arrests, we get close to solving the crime.”

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Investigators said Lessa fired the shots that killed Franco and Gomes on 14 March last year, on the north side of Rio. Queiroz drove the car that ambushed them, investigators said. Queiroz had been expelled from the police, according to the O Globo newspaper.

Prosecutors, from a special organised crime unit, said in a statement that the shooting was meticulously planned over the course of three months. “It is incontestable that Marielle Franco was summarily executed for her political activity in the defence of the causes she defended,” they added.

Both men were arrested at their homes, prosecutors said. Their homes were searched and documents, laptops, cellphones, weapons, ammunition and other items were seized. Prosecutors also requested that Lessa’s pension and weapons permit be suspended and damages for the families of the victims be paid.

One of the detained officers lives in the same gated community where the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has a home and lived before being elected last year.

The police did not explain whether that had any significance and so far the president has not been tied to the case in any manner. The president’s press office did not immediately reply to request for comment.

Marielle Franco in Cinelândia Square, Rio de Janeiro, in January 2018
Marielle Franco in Cinelândia Square, Rio de Janeiro, in January 2018. Photograph: Ellis Rua/AP

Marcelo Freixo, the congressman and former state legislature lawmaker with whom Franco began her career, said the arrests were important but “late”. “It’s unacceptable that we waited a year to have a response,” Freixo told Globo news. “Who ordered this?”

Franco’s aide, Fernanda Chaves, who survived the attack and has since been in hiding, described the incident to the Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias.

Chaves said she grabbed the handbrake after hearing a burst of shots and the car window shattering. “I just thought there had been a gunfight,” she said. “As it was very quiet in the street I started to call people, who came closer, without understanding what had happened.”

A flag depicting the image of Marielle Franco at Rio carnival.
A flag depicting the image of Marielle Franco at Rio carnival. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty

She said she did not realise what had happened until she heard the police say, “Two shot dead and one survivor”.

As a result of her murder Franco has become a symbolic figure for Brazilian women. Last week, revellers used the city’s annual carnival to demand answers in the case.

Rio’s most famous samba school, Mangueira, paid tribute to the murdered politician with a sequinned show of song, dance and dissent. Partygoers streamed down Rio’s Sambadrome waving green and pink flags emblazoned with Franco’s image and placards reading, “Justice for Marielle”.

The politician’s widow, Mônica Benício, joined the procession in a T-shirt with the words: “Fight like Marielle”.

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