The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 21, 2013

Pope's Brazil trip spurs security, protest worries

(Continued)

"The bulletproofing would lessen our worries, it'd be better if he had it," said Gen. Jose Abreu, the top officer overseeing the military's role in the security scheme. "It's a personal choice and we'll respect it, but it's not remotely pleasant for security forces."

On the top of everyone's minds are the massive and sometimes violent anti-government protests that swept this continent-sized country last month. They've continued, albeit with fewer people, less than a week before Francis' arrival Monday.

Last week, a small protest in Leblon, one of Rio's poshest neighborhoods, erupted into looting and destruction, with demonstrators smashing storefronts, defacing street signs and setting piles of garbage on fire.

A handful of protests are planned. If violence breaks out near the pope, the world may once again see images of demonstrators enveloped by clouds of tear gas, stun grenades ricocheting off stately buildings and rubber bullets whizzing through the air.

Jose Beltrame, the top security official for Rio de Janeiro state overseeing the police who will counter any violent protests, said he's certain his officers "are ready to host the pope" because they know his set agenda and have a plan in place.

However, Beltrame acknowledged that the protests are an unknown factor and that each demonstration would need to be approached differently depending upon how it unfolds.

"The challenges of the protests are different. The police have to be flexible and adapt, because there is no coordinated agenda (of protests)," he said. "We're vigilant, but it depends upon how they happen, when they happen, which is information that we don't fully have."

Joe Biundini, a Brazilian-born former U.S. Marine who heads the FAM International Group security firm, warned that much will depend on police response to any protests.

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