Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and outspoken critic of police brutality in majority black neighbourhoods, was shot in an assassination-style killing on Wednesday.

Relatives of Marielle Franco pay tribute during her funeral at Caju Cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 15, 2018.
Relatives of Marielle Franco pay tribute during her funeral at Caju Cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 15, 2018. (AFP)

Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Thursday to mourn a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and outspoken critic of police brutality in majority black neighborhoods who was shot in an assassination-style killing.

About 10,000 people marched to the Rio state assembly, with more arriving after work, to protest the slaying of Marielle Franco, 38, on Wednesday.

Many wore black and chanted slogans against the police, like: "Enough killing.... Time to react!"

"I am devastated," said Ana Paula Brandao, 48. 

"She (Marielle Franco) represented everything new that people could hope for — a black woman from the poor areas who got to where she could represent us and fought for all the big causes."

The attack, coming despite army intervention to control Rio's soaring crime rate, sparked immediate outrage around Latin America's biggest country.

As a black lesbian who campaigned for the rights of Rio's poorest and against police excesses, Franco stood out on the region's male and white-dominated political scene.

She was hit by several bullets after the attacker pulled up next to her white hatchback in central Rio and opened fire, possibly after having tailed her car for several kilometres, local media reported.

Her driver was also killed and an aide was injured in the fusillade. The assailant or assailants then drove off, without attempting to rob their victims. 

'An attack on democracy'

President Michel Temer called Franco's killing "an attack on democracy and the rule of law," and promised full help from the federal authorities.

Amnesty International demanded a rigorous probe focusing on "the context, motive and responsibility" for the killing. The UN's human rights office condemned "the deeply shocking murder."

Social media lit up with tributes to Franco.

Legendary Brazilian singer Elza Soares, who is black, tweeted that this was "one of the few times when I can't find my voice. I'm in shock. Horrified."

Franco was born and raised in a network of favelas, or slums, called Mare, one of the city's most violent areas.

A member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), she got the fifth highest vote count in Rio's 2016 council elections.

She had also become a leading voice against violence meted out by Rio's police force, which is routinely accused by major human rights organizations of extrajudicial killings, falsifying evidence and corruption. 

Just a day before her death Franco blamed police for the latest shooting death of a young man in a favela, where police, shadowy militias and heavily armed drug gangs wrestle for control.

"Another killing of a young man that could be chalked up to the police," she tweeted. 

"Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many more will have to die for this war to end?"

Although police violence is widely acknowledged, there is also sympathy for a force taking extraordinarily high casualties: 134 officers killed in Rio state in 2017.

Mourners comfort each other, during the funeral of Marielle Franco, outside Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Chamber in Brazil.
Mourners comfort each other, during the funeral of Marielle Franco, outside Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Chamber in Brazil. (AFP)

Decades-old violence

Franco's killing comes as the recent military takeover of security in Rio appears to be showing few positive results.

The city has been mired in violence for decades but the security situation has worsened dramatically since the end of the Olympic Games in 2016.

Last month, Temer ordered the military to take command of Rio city and state police.

Generals are now in charge of nearly all branches of the local security services and soldiers and heavy equipment regularly deploy to support police during sweeps of favelas, where gangs of traffickers are often in control.

The military intervention has sparked widespread concern, including from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, who said soldiers "are not specialised in public security or investigation."

Temer issued a statement on Thursday saying that Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann had discussed Franco's killing with the general in charge of the Rio military operation, "and made the federal police available to assist."

Source: AFP