World News

Forty tourists assaulted on eve of Rio Carnival

A member of the Unidos da Tijuca school works on a carnival float in Rio de Janeiro February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - More than 40 tourists were assaulted and robbed in two separate incidents in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, police said, as the city’s annual Carnival celebrations got off to a violent start.

Seven men armed with knives, guns and grenades broke into a hostel in the district of Lapa, famous for its Samba clubs and late-night parties, early in the morning and held some of the 34 foreign and Brazilian tourists hostage for at least an hour.

In the afternoon, 10 American and German tourists were held up as they visited tourist spots in the Sao Conrado area of the Brazilian city, police said.

Among the victims in the hostel were tourists from North America, Britain, Argentina and South Korea, many of them here to enjoy the several days of Carnival revelry that gets under way this weekend.

“One of our friends had his feet tied up and they went to cut it and they cut his leg,” said Rollo Skinner, an 18-year-old student from England. “Carnival is meant to be fun. This is just a bit sad.”

No serious injuries were reported, but police said one of the hostel victims was hit in the head with a rifle butt.

“I have asked the chief of the civil police and the state security secretary to do an intense investigation. This hurts my heart,” Rio State Governor Sergio Cabral told reporters.

On Wednesday, at least 13 tourists were held up and robbed at a hostel in the beach-side Copacabana district.

Famous for its beaches and the “biggest party in the world” at Carnival time, Brazil’s second-biggest city is plagued by a vast gap between rich and poor that helps breed violent crime, including a huge drug trade, murders and assaults.

Editing by Todd Eastham