Cop escort for tourists considered after Rio robbery

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Nov 28 (Reuters) Brazilian tour operators dismissed an offer by Rio de Janeiro's police chief to provide escorts for tourists after a busload of British travelers was ambushed this weekend -- the latest of many violent incidents against visitors to the seaside city.

''A police escort will create a problem with tourists. They they don't want to come to a war zone,'' said Carlos Alberto Ferreira, vice president of the Brazilian Association of Travel Agencies yesterday.

Rio police chief Ricardo Hallack said on Sunday that travel agencies should request police escorts for groups arriving in Rio.

But Ferreira said that apart from scaring tourists the offer was hardly workable.

''Groups of 15-20 tourists come here all the time, there's just not enough police to accompany all of them,'' he said.

Thieves armed with automatic rifles and grenades robbed at least 18 British tourists who had just arrived in Brazil before dawn on Sunday. A similar assault on another group of Britons took place in January.

''It's a repetition of a very similar crime and it does discourage tourists, especially from Britain,'' Ferreira said. ''It is not a declared trend yet, but it is a trend. Naturally, their agencies are seeking other destinations.'' He complained that despite reinforced policing of Rio's ocean front tourist areas, assaults on visitors and Rio residents alike continued this year.

In August, a 19-year-old Portuguese tourist was stabbed to death by a mugger on famous Copacabana Beach.

''The authorities are taking some measures, but they are not having an effect. They have to make Rio safe for its residents, then it will be safe for tourists,'' Ferreira said.

The robbery took place in Rio's swanky beachside South Zone, where police and drug traffickers squared off in a prolonged shootout a week ago in a busy street full of restaurants and bars.

Two days later a socialite was shot and killed as she pulled up to a stoplight in her upscale Leblon neighborhood.

Famous for its annual Carnival bash, its sandy beaches and verdant mountains, Rio has long been Brazil's most popular tourist destination.

But it also has one of the highest murder rates in the world, prompting some travel agencies to warn tourists that it might be safer to vacation elsewhere.


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