Brazil samba school leader shot dead in Rio ahead of Carnival

A leader of one of Rio's premiere samba parade groups was shot to death early Wednesday, just days before the city's famed Carnival celebrations.

Guaracy Paes Falcao, 42, vice president of the top-tier samba school Salgueiro, was killed in his car by unidentified gunmen before dawn while leaving the group's headquarters with a woman, who was also shot dead, police spokesman Renato Barone said.

Brazilian media reported that as many as 20 shots were fired from an assault weapon. But Barone could not confirm that. He also wouldn't say whether authorities had suspects.

The killings come a day after police entered a Rio slum and clashed with drug gangs in shootouts that killed six people, including at least four suspected gang members.

Rio in recent weeks has also seen deadly clashes between police, drug gangs and so-called militias made up of off-duty officers who have expelled gangs from about 90 of the city's 600 slums. The militias have managed to reduce drug-related violence but are charging residents and business owners for protection.

Virtually all the recent violence has been confined to "favelas," vast shantytowns and slums where millions of poor residents live. Little if any has spilled over into well-heeled beach areas where more than 600,000 Brazilian and foreign tourists are expected to start gathering in coming days to celebrate Carnival.

Wednesday's shooting happened in Tijuca, a middle-class neighborhood surrounded by slums on the city's north side.

The city's samba schools kick off the traditional carnival parade in this city's "Sambadromo" stadium Sunday. Other celebrations across the country begin as early as Thursday.

Another Salgueiro leader who was one of Falcao's cousins, Waldemir Garcia, was shot dead three years ago in Rio. Garcia had been an alleged kingpin of an illegal numbers game known here as the "jogo do bicho," Portuguese for animal game.

Police did not suggest a motive yet for Falcao's death, but local media reported there had been a long history of bad blood between Garcia and Falcao, and it's long been an open secret that Rio's annual samba parade the centerpiece of Carnival celebrations is funded by the numbers game bosses.

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