Rio Police prepare for Pope's visit during WYD

Police in Rio de Janeiro have revealed their security plans for next week’s World Youth Day (WYD Rio 2013), which includes a high-profile visit by the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis

Rio Police prepare for Pope's visit during WYD

World Bulletin/News Desk

Police in Rio de Janeiro have revealed their security plans for next week’s World Youth Day (WYD Rio 2013), which includes a high-profile visit by the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis – the first major overseas trip of his papacy.

A regional defence coordination centre for the event will be located in the Guaratiba area of Rio’s West Zone, which will host central WYD events including opening and closing papal masses and the Vigil.

According to the centre, Operação Papa (Operation Pope) will have direct control over 13,700 law enforcement officers, 10,200 of which from the Armed Forces. However, up to 35,000 security personnel could take part in the operation overall.

Rio police spoke of their plans on Thursday in the upmarket neighbourhood of Cobacabana in the city’s South Zone – an area that law enforcers say will be the most complex to manage, along with Guaratiba.

Up to 2.5 million visitors are expected to arrive in Rio for the event from across Brazil and the globe, organizers say. WYD Rio 2013 runs from July 23-28.

Such an influx of visitors – similar to the number seen at the city’s yearly Carnaval and New Year celebrations – is in itself a challenge to handle in terms of security, but this year the event is being held in a climate of mass protests, which saw over a million people take to the streets in June.

Fears of reigniting unrest

Rallies held in Rio have often turned violent, and protesters have clashed with police as recently as Wednesday evening, when at least sixteen people were arrested and police used water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.

Police used the non-lethal weapons despite a recent pact pledging to reduce the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in light of allegations the force had been “excessive” and “indiscriminate”.

A Rio police commander has said that the limiting of the non-lethal weapons had not worked, hinting they would be used if protests turned violent during the WYD and Pope’s visit.

Some protesters have already spoken of their intentions to protest during the papal visit, both direct targeting the Catholic stance on a range of topics and also using the international media attention generated by the event to voice other grievances.

The Catholic Church in Brazil has said it is prepared for criticism during the event.

For instance, the international Slutwalk movement will convene its annual rally in Rio on July 27, coinciding in WYD and the Pope’s visit.

Open ‘Popemobile’ causes concern

With the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, ABIN, already on ‘red alert’ over the possibility of mass protests during WYD Rio 2013, police say the Pope’s decision not to use protective bullet-proof glass on the ‘Popemobile’ is against their recommendations.

“Of course the Pope not coming in an armoured vehicle is a concern. But it is his personal choice. He prefers to use the Popemobile open. […] If everything he used were armoured, we would feel more comfortable,” General José Alberto da Costa Abreu told reporters, adding that their “mission is very clear: to guarantee that the event goes ahead and that the Pope is safe.”

President Dilma Rousseff is also expected to attend, increasing both pressure on those providing security even further and the likelihood of protests.

No masks allowed

Next Tuesday will see Pope Francis’s opening mass at the event, which is expected to be attended by over a million people and policed by at least 7,000 security officials.

On Thursday it was announced that those wearing masks or anything that covers their face would be barred from entering the area. Organized groups and those displaying a “hostile attitude” would also be prohibited from entering.

Many of the protesters in June’s mass protests wore Guy Fawkes masks, hindering attempts by police to identify those who had undertaken criminal activities.

Despite this, it was also revealed at the police briefing on Thursday that pilgrims coming to the event would not be searched, although security officials would make use of “personnel specialized in the analysis of bags, objects and specific behaviour” and would have “police powers” to detain and take to police stations.

No weapons – lethal or non-lethal – will be carried by security forces in the Campus, but both will be available to officers outside.

Cardinals, Vatican have faith in police plans

Last month Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno, president of the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), met with President Rousseff to seek assurances that security for WYD Rio 2013 and the Pope’s visit would be adequate and prepared for the reappearance of protests.

The Vatican’s Commander of the Gendarmerie General Domenico Giani said of the protest movements during WYD that he did “not believe there would be any safety issues” as security strategies were being planned “down to the smallest details and minutiae.”

Both the CNBB and the Metropolitan Archbishop of Rio, Orani Tempesta, have given their backing to the protest movement. Archbishop Tempesta said the protests had at their core the same desires as the “Christian values” promoted by the World Youth Day festival – and that the two shared the goal of changing people’s lives for the better, something “rooted in justice and peace.”

Brazil is home to the world’s biggest population of Catholics, although the growing popularity of Pentecostal churches in recent years has seen a significant proportion of Catholics converting to Evangelical Protestantism.

However, according to Brazilian Cardinal Geraldo Majella, the reduction in Brazil’s overwhelming Catholic population does not “represent a threat” to the church: “You do not lose what you do not have.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Temmuz 2013, 17:58