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Tourists assaulted on eve of Rio carnival

MORE than 40 tourists were assaulted and robbed in two separate incidents in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, police said, as the city's annual carnival celebrations got off to a violent start.

Seven men armed with knives, guns and grenades broke into a hostel in the district of Lapa, famous for its Samba clubs and late-night parties, early in the morning and held some of the 34 foreign and Brazilian tourists hostage for at least an hour.

That afternoon, 10 American and German tourists were held up as they visited tourist spots, police said.

Among the victims in the hostel were tourists from North America, Britain, Argentina and South Korea, many of them in Brazil to enjoy the several days of carnival revelry that gets under way today.

"One of our friends had his feet tied up and they went to cut it and they cut his leg," said Rollo Skinner, an 18-year-old from England. "Carnival is meant to be fun. This is just a bit sad."

No serious injuries were reported, but police said one of the victims was hit in the head with a rifle butt.

On Wednesday, at least 13 tourists were held up and robbed at a hostel in the beach-side Copacabana district.

Rio's mayor has a plan he believes can tame the chaotic city, which is both beloved and loathed for the cacophony of sins that reach their apex during carnival. His method: a "shock of order" campaign in which even the smallest offenses will be punished.

His model is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose crackdown on petty crime was credited for a drop in serious crimes in the 1990s.

His chances of success in Rio: nil, according to most observers.

Eduardo Paes, the 39-year-old mayor who took office on January 1, is energetically trying to reverse Rio's reputation as an anything-goes city.

Paes has said that Rio lost its luster long ago by allowing little crimes to tarnish its reputation. His first targets have been the countless providers of what many citizens consider to be useful - if illegal - services in Rio's economy.

From men who sell boiled corn in the streets, to boys who demand coins to guard cars, to women hawking ice-cold beer from small coolers on Copacabana beach, hundreds of these workers have felt the pinch.

However, whether this will have any effect on serious crime in the city is another story: 4,694 people were murdered in Rio last year from January through October.


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