RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Police in riot gear surrounded a settlement of indigenous people next to Rio de Janeiro's storied Maracana stadium on Saturday, preparing to evict them as soon as an expected court order arrived.
The site commander, police Lt. Alex Melo, explained officers were "waiting for the order, and understand it can come at any time."
But the order still had not arrived after a tense, daylong standoff. Frightened residents wondered why law enforcement came without an order to enter, and federal public defenders who have worked on the protracted legal battle over the space tried to mediate.
"This is absolutely arbitrary. They can't enter without an order," said public defender Daniel Macedo. "If they did, they could be charged with a crime, with abuse of authority. It could be a blood bath, which could look really bad for the government of Brazil and the state."
The indigenous group includes men and women of about 10 ethnicities — mostly Guarani, Pataxo, Kaingangue and Guajajara — who have been squatting for years in 10 homes they built on the site of an old Indian Museum, abandoned since 1977.
The police arrived early in the morning and surrounded the compound. By noon, the residents locked the main gate. As supporters arrived, the Indians lowered a wooden ladder over the brick wall surrounding the complex to let them in, later pulling the ladder back up.
During the nerve-racking wait on Saturday, the squatters painted their faces and bodies and donned elaborate headdresses, at times playing rattles and flutes or whistling bird calls. Some displayed ornamental bows and arrows over the wall and through the gate separating them from the black-clad police in body armor.
The settlement and the remains of the building that lodged the museum are adjacent to the Maracana, which is being refurbished to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics and the final match of the 2014 World Cup.
Blighted streets around the stadium are also to undergo a vast transformation to become a shopping and sports entertainment hub, complete with parking lots. Most of a favela, or shantytown, about 500 meters away has already been demolished to make way for the new development.
The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, told a news conference in October that the building's razing is necessary for hosting the World Cup.
"The Indian Museum near the Maracana will be demolished," Cabral said then. "It's being demanded by FIFA and the World Cup Organizing Committee. Long live democracy, but the building has no historical value. We're going to tear it down."
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