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CORRECTION FEATURE Tension rises in Rio de Janeiro slum with Olympics on horizon By Georg Ismar, dpa

Germany
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The Olympics take place in Brazil next year and the city of Rio de Janeiro is trying hard to bring peace to one of its most dangerous slums, Complexo do Alemao. Bullet holes pock mark the sides of houses and police officers can‘t hide their nervousness. But the people living there find ways to cope.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Antonio Eliais was sitting in his living room watching TV when a bullet whizzed past his head.

"It was this close," he recalls, holding his thumb and index finger a tiny distance apart.

The 57-year-old found the bullet, which was fired from outside his home, and kept it.

"I‘ve been living here for 23 years, but it had never been this bad," he said.

Protesters line up at the entrance of the Complexo do Alemao, currently one of the most dangerous favelas in Rio de Janeiro, a city of 6.5 million people. One reporter is wearing a bulletproof vest. Houses all around are scarred by bullet holes.

But there are also normal scenes. The market at the entrance to the favela, which has fish, steaks and sausages on display despite the 30-degree-Celsius heat, has a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere.

The history of the favela dates back to shortly after World War I when Leonard Kaczmarkiewicz arrived from Poland. Its name, Complexo do Alemao, translates as the German‘s Complex, but it‘s a misnomer.

When Kaczmarkiewicz arrived he founded a large estate and brought in cheap labour from northern Brazil to grow coffee and oranges. Kaczmarkiewicz‘s short stature, his pale-coloured eyes and his awful Portuguese earned him the nickname Alemao, the German.

Now, instead of smelling like coffee and citrus fruit, the slum smells like urine and rubbish. Its gutters are full of plastic bags and every now and then there is a wrecked car by the wayside.

Eliais closed a bar he ran because of damage caused by a shooting. The latest incident is the last straw for his wife, who now wants to leave altogether.

During the protest an older man knelt to pray for an end to the violence. The stories of individual people were read from a loudspeaker on a car. One story was about an autistic boy who did not understand police orders to stop and was almost killed.

"We are tired. We want more peace and less shooting," says a voice from the loudspeaker.

Adults and children can be seen up the slope waving white handkerchiefs.

Things get dicey as demonstrators walk past a police station. Since the Peacemaking Police Unit (UPP) marched into the favela and set up checkpoints five years ago, almost no one dares to go outside at night.

The police station, protected with barrels and sand bags, is in a hall that used to hold cultural events and dancing.

"People here can no longer celebrate Carnival," the speaker says.

Police officers look extremely nervous as they cling to their machine guns. They watch the protesters, but also keep an eye on the houses on the side of the cliff that are within shooting distance. Locals fear for their lives, but police officers are equally terrified.

Amnesty International has accused Rio‘s police of excessive use of force and points out that the police force has claimed the lives of 5,132 people in the city over the past decade.

It is a vicious cycle for both sides in which peaceful residents suffer the most. One of the organizers of the protest, Cleber Araujo, 39, said the government wants to pacify the favela no matter what it takes.

Some 1,600 police officers are active in the favela, which holds about 200,000 people.

Is the whole operation linked to next year‘s Olympics, which run from August 5-21 in Rio? The Olympic Stadium is only 7 kilometres away from the slum, which stretches over several hills with a cable car between them.

"Of course it is," said Araujo. It is the headquarters for the worst drug and weapons dealers in Rio.

"The idea is that, if they pacify this favela, [the gangs] will not cause trouble elsewhere, and Rio can be safer until the Olympics," he says.

According to the daily Globo, there have been shootings in the favela on 81 per cent of the days this year. In April, a 10-year-old boy was shot dead. Alan Brum Pinheiro, head of an institute that investigates violence in the area, has counted 111 shootings since 2014, with at least 32 people officially reported killed.

"Shootings used to happen at night only. Now there are no set times," Araujo said.

Still, locals carry on with their typically Brazilian joie de vivre. Children laugh out of houses with bullet holes in them, fly kites and play football in their neighbourhood. Many residents sit outside on plastic stools, drinking beer and repairing their motorbikes.

Some brightly coloured houses stand out among a sea of concrete and brick.

Araujo‘s wive, Marieluce, 33, has painted eight favela homes, decorating them with flying dragons in red, blue and yellow as a symbol of the very colourful life in the favela. She sells photographs with scenes of the favela, while her husband shows his optimism by distributing postcards that promote tourism in the Complexo do Alemao.

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