March 12, 2019 / 1:27 PM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 1-Two ex-policemen charged in connection with Brazil politician's murder

(Adds details on the charges)

By Rodrigo Viga

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 12 (Reuters) - Two former police officers were arrested and charged on Tuesday in connection with the murders of a local councilwoman and her driver that sparked national protests last year over Brazil’s endemic violence, Rio de Janeiro police and prosecutors said.

The operation that resulted in the two arrests in Rio de Janeiro was near the first anniversary of the deaths of the councilwoman, Marielle Franco, and her driver, Anderson Gomes.

The suspects were identified as Ronnie Lessa, a retired military police officer, and Élcio Vieira de Queiroz, a policeman who was expelled from the force.

“Two police officers were arrested with a direct and effective participation in the crime,” said Marcus Vinícius Braga, Rio de Janeiro state police secretary. “With these arrests, we are getting close to solving the crime.”

Investigators said Lessa fired the shots that killed Franco and Gomes on March 14, 2018, on the north side of Rio, Brazil’s second largest city. Queiroz drove the car that ambushed them, investigators said.

Franco, a human rights and women’s rights activist who had denounced police abuse in Rio, was a rising star in the Socialism and Liberty Party. Her press secretary, Fernanda Chaves, who was traveling in the same vehicle, suffered minor injuries.

Thousands took to the streets in protest across Brazil after the killings, which drew international condemnation from rights groups.

According to the document detailing the charges, “it is undisputed that Marielle Francisco da Silva was summarily executed because of the political causes that she defended.”

Lessa lives in the same gated community where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has a home, according to authorities, but they did not explain if there is any significance to that, and so far the president has not been tied to the case in any manner.

The president’s press office did not respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga, writing by Ana Mano Editing by Daniel Flynn, Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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