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Rape of tourist in Rio spurs safety fears

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A night on the town turned into a six-hour-long nightmare after an American woman was gang-raped and beaten aboard a public transit van while her handcuffed French boyfriend looked on helplessly, an incident that shocked this resort city as it gears up to host next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Police response to the attack was swift: Three alleged perpetrators, aged 20 to 22, were in custody, and investigators combed databases to determine whether the men might have been behind any other crimes.

Many still ask whether Rio authorities, who have succeeded in cracking down on much of the city's drug violence, are up to the task of protecting the waves of tourists expected to flood the city during the upcoming doubleheader of mega-events.

Some 2 million people are also expected to flock to the city in late July for World Youth Day, a Roman Catholic pilgrimage that Pope Francis is scheduled to attend.

Some observers said the attack came as a particular shock given that safety has improved at least in the city's tourist-friendly, seaside South Zone neighborhoods. Those who three or four years ago would have hesitated to hail a taxi or walk around after dark now do both without thinking twice.

It was in the beachfront neighborhood of Copacabana, full of senior citizens in bikinis by day but seedier by night, that the two foreigners hailed one of the fleet of transit vans often used as a speedier alternative to buses. Police say the foreigners, both in their early 20s, were headed shortly after midnight Saturday to Lapa, a popular downtown hot spot where Rio's youth converges on clubs, bars and samba venues. They never made it to their destination. -- AP

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