SÃO PAULO – Witnesses in Rio de Janeiro say police fired live rounds in two separate incidents at Sunday’s anti-World Cup protest, held around a mile from the city’s famous Maracanã stadium during the venue’s inaugural World Cup match, between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“We were covering the World Cup protest on 28 de Setembro Boulevard, which was only about 50 people at that point, because police had dispersed the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades,” photographer Leonardo Carrato, who works for the independent Coletivo Carranca media group, told Mashable of the incident.
“Then a man in civilian clothes got out of a car and took out a gun and waved it at protesters, threatening to shoot if anyone got too close. He identified himself as a cop but wouldn’t show us his ID,” Carrato continued.
“Then he got nervous as we got closer to take photos, jumped back into the car and fired four or five times into the air.”
Carrato and his colleagues say they later found evidence of the live rounds on the ground.
It was not the only incident of the night: Another police officer, this time in uniform identifying himself as from the Choque riot squad, reportedly drove up to protesters on a motorcycle brandishing a lethal weapon.
According to Carrato and other reports, in an even more horrifying turn of events, this uniformed officer aimed his gun at protesters and fired; luckily, no one was hit.
The Associated Press says this police officer can be seen on footage its reporters filmed at the protest. They quote Rio de Janeiro security officials as saying that an investigation into the incident would be opened should the footage be verified by authorities.
Pedro Dantas, a spokesman for the Rio de Janeiro security secretariat that oversees all security forces, said in a phone interview that if authorities verify the accuracy of the video, they will “immediately open an investigation into the incident.”
Violence at the protest against significant government spending on the monthlong soccer tournament was not only directed towards protesters. A number of masked youths reportedly threw petrol bombs at police as well. That prompted security forces to respond with a range of tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray. At least one protester was injured and taken to hospital.
Officials have not confirmed whether any police were hurt in the incident. Protesters also vandalised a number of bank branches during Sunday’s march.
The protests were far smaller than those seen in June last year, when over a million Brazilians took to the streets of over 300 cities to voice a wide range of grievances. The current spate of protests, while small, have been unpredictable and violent.
Clashes between protesters and police also marred the opening of the World Cup in São Paulo last Thursday. Several protesters and reporters were injured during the seemingly-excessive police crackdown.