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Rio councilwoman murdered after speaking out against police killings in Brazil

A woman gestures during a demonstration Thursday against the murder of Brazilian councilwoman and activist Marielle Franco in front of Rio's Municipal Chamber in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)

Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and firebrand Marielle Franco was murdered on Wednesday. She was an outspoken critic of the Brazilian government's recent decision that decreed the nation's army to take over all security operations through 2018.

Franco and her driver were killed in a drive-by shooting while traveling in the city's north side. Her press secretary was also present and injured in the attack, but survived.

When asked about a possible motive for the councilwoman's murder, Rivaldo Barbosa, chief of Rio's Civil Police, speculated that "one of the possibilities in analysis, yes, is an execution."

Raised in a Rio slum, Franco was a popular figure among voters in her hometown, speaking out against police killings in a country with widespread gang activity, militias made up of retired law enforcement, and whose capital city sees their police force as the most corrupt in the nation.

In a 2013 survey, over 30 percent of Brazilians reported being extorted by police. Seventeen percent of respondents lived in Rio.

The councilwoman had recently taken to social media, protesting the killings of two boys in Acari during an alleged police raid.

"We must scream out so that all know what is happening in Acari right now," she said. "Rio's police are terrorizing and violating those who live in Acari. This week, two youth were killed and tossed in a ditch. Today, the police were in the street threatening those who live there. This has been going on forever and will only be worse with military intervention."

Prior to the killing of Franco, the United Nations issued a statement on Tuesday that voiced concern over Brazil's increased military intervention on civilians.

"Governments must limit to the greatest extent possible the use of the armed forces to address internal disturbances, since the training that they get is geared toward defeating an enemy militarily rather than protecting and controlling civilians," the UN said.

Franco's death resulted in thousands of supporters filling the streets of Brazilian cities to protest her murder on Thursday night. Danielle Ramos, a rally attendee, said, "The path of her own fight is what gives us the strength to carry on."

Political killings aren't uncommon in Brazil. Leading up the 2016 city council elections in Baixada Fluminense — a region surrounding Rio — 13 politicians were murdered before ballots were even cast.

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