Rio's far-right governor would use 'a missile' against criminals

Rio de Janeiro's Governor Wilson Witzel (pictured May 2019), who presided over a record number of police killings in the first three months of his term, said that Rio residents were living in a "state of terrorism" (AFP Photo/MAURO PIMENTEL)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Rio de Janeiro's far-right governor Wilson Witzel has advocated using a "missile" to blow up criminals in one of the Brazilian city's most violent slums.

Witzel, who presided over a record number of police killings in the first three months of his term, said Friday that Rio residents were living in a "state of terrorism," in comments broadcast by RJTV.

"If it were authorized by the United Nations, in other parts of the world, we'd have authorization to send a missile there to blow up those people," Witzel said, referring to the City of God favela, which earned worldwide notoriety with the hit 2002 film of the same name.

Witzel's widely quoted remarks came after an intense gunfight between police and gangsters in the stricken favela on Wednesday that killed at least one person, the news website G1 reported.

"Our police don't want to kill, but we don't want to see scenes like those we saw in the City of God," Witzel said at the event in Nova Iguacu municipality near Rio.

Renata Souza, president of the Rio legislative assembly's human rights commission, condemned Witzel's remarks, saying they "revealed an authoritarian and violent mentality," the daily Folha de Sao Paulo reported.

They show his "prejudice and contempt for the lives of the poor who live in the favelas," she said.

Witzel was elected in large part due to his support for the tough anti-crime policy of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who also came to power in January.

A record 434 people were killed during "police interventions" in the first three months of this year -- a 17.9 percent increase from the same period in 2018, official figures show.

That is the highest quarterly figure in the 21 years since the state Institute for Public Safety began keeping records of police-related killings.

In late March, Witzel told O Globo newspaper that police were now using snipers to take out suspects from long distances.

"The order is clear: if someone is carrying an assault rifle, they have to be neutralized in lethal fashion immediately," Witzel said.

He sparked further outcry last month after posting a video on Twitter of himself in a police helicopter as officers fired toward a favela below.

Pro-gun Bolsonaro last month signed a decree allowing millions of Brazilians to carry loaded weapons in public, which has triggered legal and political challenges.

A Senate committee voted last week in favor of overturning the order. The full Senate is expected to vote on the decision Tuesday.