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Mother of slain man blames Rio police

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JENNY BARCHFIELD | April 23, 2014 02:31 PM EST | AP

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The mother of a young man whose death sparked clashes in a Rio de Janeiro slum near a key Olympic venue blames police for her son's death, news reports said Wednesday.

Maria de Fatima da Silva told the G1 Internet portal she believes police killed her son, Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, whose body was found Tuesday in the Pavao-Pavaozinho hillside "favela."

The slum is sandwiched between Rio's two showcase Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and is just a few hundred yards (meters) from where Olympic swimming events are to be held during the 2016 summer games. The favela erupted into violence late Tuesday, following the discovery of Pereira's body at a day care center. Another man, Edilson da Silva dos Santos, was killed in the overnight clashes, according to a police statement.

News reports said Santos, who, like Pereira, was also in his mid-20s, was killed by a bullet to the head.

The G1 report quotes Pereira's mother as saying the young man, a dancer on a popular variety show on the Globo television network, fell to his death. However, Silva said lawyers helped her obtain a copy of the autopsy, which shows the body presented a perforation wound inconsistent with the police account.

G1, the Internet portal of the Globo network, later ran a separate report quoting a forensic expert as saying the injury described in the autopsy appeared to be consistent with a bullet wound.

A spokeswoman for Rio's civil police declined to comment on the reports, saying an investigation was under way. In a statement, the police later said officers, witnesses and members of both Pereira and Santos' families were giving statements as part of the probe, which also included members of the city's homicide division.

"Investigators are still waiting for the result of forensic reports to pronounce on the cause of the deaths," the statement said.

Police here began an ambitious security program in 2008 to drive the gangs from some of the city's more than 1,000 slums and for the first time set up permanent posts. The so-called "pacifying police units" are part of efforts to secure this notoriously violent city ahead of the Olympics and the World Cup that begins this June.

So far, 37 such units have been created, covering an area with a population of 1.5 million people. But critics have complained the units have tended to be clustered near wealthy, touristy neighborhoods and are aimed more at keeping a lid on violent crime during the upcoming mega-events than protecting slum dwellers.

The units have also come under criticism for their use of heavy-handed tactics, particularly after more than two dozen police officers were handed charges in a high-profile killing last year in a different Rio shantytown. Investigators say the officers tortured a local man, who died during the ordeal, and then hid his body. The victim, Amarildo de Souza, has become to symbolize police violence here. His body has still not been found.