SÃO PAULO — A São Paulo court ordered Brazil’s mobile operators to block messaging service WhatsApp for two days after the app — Brazil’s most popular — repeatedly ignored demands to comply with a criminal case.

[UPDATE: The suspension was lifted on Thursday afternoon following an order from São Paulo justice tribunal.]

WhatsApp was suspended at midnight in Brasília (02:00 GMT) this Thursday, with users confirming the outage on social media as operators released statement that they were complying with the court order.

In São Paulo, some users said the service, which has nearly 1 billion users worldwide, had already been suspended before midnight.

Local media in Brazil, including the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, reported that the 48-hour suspension was ordered by a court in São Bernardo do Campos, a municipality located immediately south of São Paulo city, after WhatsApp refused to share data of a suspect relating to a drug trafficking trial.

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SÃO PAULO – A march through the streets of Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, reunited thousands of people calling for the legalisation of marijuana on Saturday.

Police said 3,000 people took part in the march, which was accompanied by only 120 police officers accompanied – far fewer that have been seen at the recent anti-World Cup protests, when police have regularly outnumbered protesters.

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UPP Mandela. Photo by Ale Silva/Futura Press/Estadão Conteúdo

The Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in the Mandela favela, part of the Manguinhos complex, was torched on Thursday 20 March. Photo by Ale Silva/Futura Press/Estadão Conteúdo.

Brazil is to deploy federal troops to the city of Rio de Janeiro to ensure public security after a number of serious attacks on favela (shantytown) police stations across the city.

Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral and Federal Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo made the announcement on Friday following a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff.

Cabral and Rio’s public security secretary José Beltrame had traveled to the capital, Brasília, on Friday to ask the government for federal support to help quell the violence.

No further details were given in a subsequent press conference, but ahead of the announcement on troops Beltrame said: “We are ready […] to make sure there is no kind of threat to Rio’s citizens. We are out in maximum force on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.”

Military police had already bolstered their presence in a number of favelas (shantytowns) after a series of attacks on communities with Police Pacification Stations, known as UPPs, local media reported on Friday.

Extra officers and backup from tactical divisions were deployed in the favela communities after at least three separate “pacified” favela communities saw attacks on Thursday night.

Manguinhos favela. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP.

Manguinhos favela in Rio’s North Zone now has a far greater police presence due to a slew of attacks. Photo by Felipe Dana/AP.

Thirty-eight communities have so far undergone “pacification”, a city-wide policy by which police bring lawless areas, often controlled by armed gangs involved in drug trafficking, under their control by force, with UPPs left to consolidate gains.

On Thursday attacks were reported in three communities in different parts of the city with parts of the Manguinhos, Lins and Alemão favela complexes consequently waking up to a major police presence on Friday morning.

Manguinhos, in Rio’s North Zone, suffered the worst attack, Globo News reported. The head of one of the region’s UPPs suffered gunshot wounds and another officer was hit in the head by a rock. Both are reportedly stable in hospital and undergoing treatment.

The Mandela UPP, located in the Manguinhos complex visited by Pope Francis in June 2013, was set ablaze and gutted. Two police cars and five support bases were also torched.

The police chief in overall charge of Rio’s UPPs said he believed the attacks were coordinated.

‘On high alert’

The attacks brought some parts of the city to a standstill on Thursday night, with trains stopped in places due to running gun battles between criminals and police.

Local media in Rio de Janeiro reported that the Manguinhos community was without power after the attacks and schools were unable to teach around 4,000 school children on Friday.

All UPP communities have been put on high alert and police have had time-off suspended and are ready to carry out operationwhen deemed necessary, the local authorities said.

After meeting with the cabinet, Beltrame said the city’s security problems were down to Brazil’s “archaic” penal and prison systems, as well as a growing problem with crack use and gun crime within the country, the G1 news website reported.

Rio’s controversial pacification policy has been praised for integrating previously-lawless areas into the wider community and bringing security and public services to the city’s most underprivileged communities.

However, an underlying sense of distrust between residents and police remains. A number of incidents in recent weeks in which favela residents have been shot dead – by police or during police operations with criminals – has brought the topic of pacification back into the spotlight.

Written for Anadolu Agency

Although relatively speaking Brazil doesn’t attract that many foreign visitors a year, the image it manages to project to the outside world is overwhelmingly positive: samba, impressive nature, happy-go-lucky, vibrant, sexy, full of optimism, with a nothing-can-bring-me-down attitude. In a word: Rio.

Carnaval in Rio

The Rio/Carnaval image that Brazil projects to the world

For the lucky few, this is perhaps a reality. Even for some outside Rio. Money helps – as long as you’re locked away snug in your closed condominium. Even the masses get a break in February to dance and forget their problems (read: get drunk) in the dizzying Carnaval holiday.

For the foreign visitor, staying just a couple of weeks, this is the impression you’re likely to leave with. And if that person were someone like me, who is besotted with nature – this place is unrivalled. It’s a paradise. When I’m in the forest surrounded by toucans and parrots, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

But then the road inevitably turns back to the cities and their dark goings-on. My heart sinks every time.

I’m not a city boy – although I lived in London for five years and grew up just a few miles from the quaint city of Canterbury in England’s southeasternmost corner. I’m much more at home around forests, fields and coastlines.

And I’m sure it’d be true of the vast majority of cities in Brazil, Latin America and further afield, but for me that place is my city in southern Brazil – Curitiba, with its “modern, European” ways (words we’re all continually force-fed here – whoever thought these words up has never been anywhere modern or European). All that is wrong with the world comes into sharp focus as it brazenly wanders down the street in the light of day.

Forget the discourteous people that blight any city, and particularly Curitiba. Forget the over-tattooed, disgusting massive-hole-in-the-earlobe crowd which seemingly represents half the population here. Forget things like bent politicians and not recycling enough. Forget graffiti, traffic and the taste of the air pollution in the back of your throat as the environmentally-friendly buses chug thick, black smoke into the already-polluted air.

I mean, the real wrongs of this world – homelessness, prostitution, destructive vandalism, violence, muggings, drug-taking – it’s all far too easy to see here. Knife and gun crime is rife in many places – and although I haven’t yet come face-to-face with it here, I have friends here who have and have been lucky on most occasions only to come into contact with the former.

Just walk around the area near Rua Treze de Maio – 13 May Street – a date, by the way, that is meant to set off visions of the end of slavery in the minds of Brazilians.

On one side – prostitutes, not just at dusk but all day long. Some of them are painfully young, their pimps striding around them. All the phone booths here are laced with calling cards. There seems to be no shame in it. In fact, all you see on the pavements right now are bits of paper promoting hookers (and politicians).

Smoking crack from a can

A young Brazilian smokes crack out of a can

On the other side – a teenager smoking crack out of a can. I’ve seen this a number of times and I feel I am getting desensitised to the sight. Look too long at someone and they think you’re looking to score drugs.

The rate of homelessness is Curitiba is also sky-high. People come in from the rest of the state – some say they are bussed in by other cities – and just hang around the parks and squares. The sight of someone putting their hand in a bin and pulling out a half-smoked cigarette or a tin can they can sell off, as it was unusual, used to repulse me in London. I see it every 10 minutes here.

On the corner of Treze de Maio stands a mugger, biding his time until the next victim walks into his web. Today it was my other half – the thief waited until the road was quiet and then threatened him, apparently harbouring a gun under his jacket. Luckily, he escaped unharmed and none the worse for the ordeal.

Depending on the survey, Curitiba ranks between first and sixth most violent city in Brazil. And although this is centred largely in one very dodgy area in the suburbs, the city is not a place to walk around after 10pm or so.

I am aware that these things can be found in most cities, but they are so on show, so easily seen here, that I forget how horrific they are.

And so what? Big cities in Brazil are like that: deal with it or go elsewhere. Okay, but these cities are going to be broadcast to the world from next year – with the FIFA Confederations Cup beginning, and then to massive audiences in 2014 (World Cup) and 2016 (Olympics).

Despite my complaints about Curitiba and Brazil’s shortcomings – “I complain therefore I am” would go well on my gravestone, my other half would say – I care. Obviously, I care. That’s why I complain. I have strong opinions about this place – and although I could easily up-sticks and skedaddle, I just wish people would take the opportunity, the billions of reais of opportunity, and do something with it that would benefit people.

Why do I care? Because although I have met a lot of lazy, lying, underhand people here – most of them have been landlords – I have met many more nice people and it saddens me that they have to put up with it, particularly when politicians are syphoning off the money that could be sorting it out.

I’m being too simplistic, I know. But it’s so frustrating when you see that Brazil has the potential to be an AMAZING country, if only it were to take the bull by the horns and sort itself out, without wasting money on looking fancy, trying to keep up with the Gonzálezes and the Wongs with predictable wastes of money like bullet trains and 4G networks.

Sometimes I feel like a parent berating a child. It’s so obvious to me that what you’re doing is wrong. But then perhaps I’m wrong, and there’s a better way… with improvements having started deep inside the system that will soon come to the surface. Parents don’t always know best. Butt out, gringo.

But I fear that, with nosey journalists and visitors soon coming to Brazil in much bigger numbers, more harm will be done to the country’s image than good, and that would not be good for the country as a whole – in terms of investments and tourism.

And where London 2012 brought a sense of pride back to the British people, I can just foresee a situation where a slew of behind-the-scenes stories will emanate from Rio 2016, shaming Brazilians and doing nothing for their optimism – which I see as the one thing that gets them through these sometimes shocking conditions – not to mention the country’s more abstract new-found sense of place on the world stage.