January 29, 2008 / 7:32 PM / 12 years ago

Half million Brazilians seen killed in decade

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Nearly half a million Brazilians were murdered in the past decade but the homicide rate is gradually falling due to better social welfare, more policing and fewer firearms, a study said on Tuesday.

The body of Celso Daniel, murdered mayor of Santo Andre, lies in his coffin at his funeral held at the city council office complex in Santo Andre, a satellite city of Sao Paulo, January 21, 2002. Daniel, mayor of Santo Andre and coordinator of the opposition Workers Party's government plan, was found dead on a dirt road some 43 miles (70 km) south of Sao Paulo, after having been kidnapped. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

In the 10 years from 1996 to 2006, around 465,000 people were murdered, according to a study published by two aid groups and the federal government. The vast majority were shot.

Gang-related violence routinely shakes Brazil’s major cities, temporarily shutting down neighborhoods and killing innocent bystanders.

Experts say corrupt and under-staffed police cannot cope; they cite the vast disparity between rich and poor as one of the main underlying causes of the violence.

A series of high-profile crimes in 2006 and 2007 made public safety Brazilians’ top concern. Polls show widespread dissatisfaction with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva performance on this issue.

Many of Brazil’s 12 most violent cities are in the Amazon region, where conflicts over land and natural resources are often resolved by hired gunmen, the report said.

Foz de Iguacu, gateway to a famed waterfall and a major tourist attraction, is the fifth-most violent municipality, with 99 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, more than twice the rate in the most crime-ridden U.S. cities.

But the number of homicides in 2006 fell for the third consecutive year to 46,660 from a peak of 50,980 in 2003, according to the report.

Government campaigns to destroy firearms as well as increased social welfare programs and tougher policing helped reduce the murder rate, the report said.

But millions of youths in desperate social and economic straits still provided a breeding ground for future criminals, they said.

“The falling homicide rate is good news but let’s not celebrate too much,” said Jorge Werthein, co-author of the report and executive director of Latin American Technological Information Network (LATIN), an inter-governmental group of six Latin American countries.

“It is still totally unacceptable by any international standard,” Werthein said.

Editing by Alan Elsner

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