Rio police closing in on activist's murderers: report

Anielle Silva (L), sister of activist Marielle Franco, cries at a memorial in Rio de Janeiro on April 14, 2018, one month after Franco's murder (AFP Photo/DIEGO HERCULANO)
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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Authorities are closing in on the killers of a high-profile Rio de Janeiro politician and black rights activist, a government minister was quoted as saying Thursday, as police staged a reenactment of the murder.

After more than seven weeks without announcing significant progress, officials are indicating that they are ramping up efforts to find Marielle Franco's killer.

Security Minister Raul Jungmann was quoted by the news site noticias.UOL as saying that "the investigation is entering its final stage. I believe that we'll soon have results."

Jungmann confirmed media reports that suspects include a Rio city councilor and a jailed commander of one of the city's underground paramilitary groups known as militias.

"I can say that they and others are being investigated," he said.

Franco's March 14 killing -- in what appeared to be a professional hit in the city center -- shocked Brazilians and prompted a big demonstration against Rio's surging violence.

On Thursday, officers from the homicide department prepared an elaborate reenactment of the event, in which both Franco and her driver were killed when assailants approached their car and opened fire.

Globo television showed tarpaulins being erected around neighboring streets to block views of the area. Sandbags meant to absorb test shots during the recreation were piled up near the crime scene.

"During the reenactment, there could be shots fired at specific points for (ballistics) analysis. For this reason, access for pedestrians and vehicles will be blocked to the whole area," a police statement said.

A rare black city council member, Franco had become a prominent critic of police violence in Rio and what she said was the targeting of blacks in the city's poverty-stricken favela neighborhoods.

Colleagues say the leftist politician was killed because she had angered police and the militias, which are believed to have close links to parts of the police force.

On Wednesday, local media quoted an unidentified police informant saying that he knew the murder was masterminded by the city councilor and militia leader now also referred to by Jungmann.

According to the informant, the councilor and militia commander ordered Franco's killing because of her human rights activism in the violent west of Rio, a militia stronghold.

The councilor, Marcello Siciliano, denied the allegations, telling journalists: "I'm being massacred on social media for something said by a person whose credibility is unknown. I never had political conflicts (with Franco)."

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