x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Brazil steps up security for Pope Francis's visit

Brazil is embarking on a huge security operation to deter any repetition of last month's social unrest and protect Pope Francis during his visit next week.

The Popemobile arrives at Galeao air base ahead of World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro.
The Popemobile arrives at Galeao air base ahead of World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro.

RIO DE JANEIRO // Brazil is embarking on a huge security operation to deter any repetition of last month's social unrest and protect Pope Francis during his visit next week.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world are expected to flock to Rio de Janeiro for the July 22-28 visit during World Youth Day (WYD), a major Roman Catholic festival.

The defence ministry, which is coordinating security, is boosting from an initial 8,500 to 10,266 the number of army, air force and navy personnel to be deployed for the high-profile event. The increase was decided because of "the massive street protests in June", a ministry spokesman said.

In addition to the armed forces, state security officials will launch "the biggest police operation in the city's history", said Roberto Alzir Dias Chaves, the under secretary for major events.

"Seven thousand police will beef up the city's 12,000 police, in addition to 1,700 members of the elite national force and units of the civilian, highway and federal police forces," he said.

"It will be a bigger mobilisation than what occurred two years ago at the Madrid WYD," he said, noting that the plan had been developed well before the street protests in June.

The nationwide turmoil, which took place during the Fifa Confederations Cup, brought more than one million Brazilians on to the streets of various cities to demand an end to political corruption and greater investment in public services rather than in sporting events such as next year's World Cup.

The unprecedented protests, coordinated through social media, were often marred by violence and acts of vandalism.

Officials initially feared that the unrest might flare anew during the papal visit to the world's largest mostly Catholic country.

But the presidential chief of staff, Gilberto Carvalho, and Catholic leaders are now confident that this will not happen "given the very nature of the event".

"The Pope will be safe here. And not because of the armed forces, but because of our people, our democracy, the sympathy he inspires since he represents a new hope, not just for the Church but for mankind," Mr Carvalho said.

Although the Pope's traditional closed popemobile has been shipped to Brazil, the pontiff is expected to use two open jeeps, to be closer to the people.

Media reports, however, said a so-called "beijaco", a demonstration at which gay couples kiss each other on the lips, or massive distributions of condoms might take place along the papal motorcade's route.

In Rio, the pontiff will tour a small shantytown in the northern district.

But the biggest security concern will focus on events on Copacabana Beach where the Pope will deliver a welcoming speech for the youth, and in Guaratiba, 40 kilometres west of Rio where a papal mass and youth vigil will be held.

On July 24, the pontiff will travel to Aparecida, a pilgrimage site in Sao Paulo state, where more than 4,000 troops will provide security.

The defence ministry spokesman said the armed forces would handle security in 10 areas, including control of airspace, border surveillance, chemical and biological weapons, explosives trade, maritime defence and cybersecurity.