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Two men arrested in killing of LGBTQ lawmaker Marielle Franco, Brazil police say

Franco, a bisexual member of Rio de Janeiro's city council, was gunned down last year. The brazen assassination sparked protests in several countries.
Image: An demonstrator holds a photo of Brazilian activist Marielle Franco during an International Women's Day rally in Los Angeles on March 8, 2019.
An demonstrator holds a photo of Brazilian activist Marielle Franco during an International Women's Day rally in Los Angeles on March 8, 2019.Mario Tama / Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO — Police on Tuesday arrested two suspects in the killing of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver, a brazen assassination that shocked and angered Brazilians and sparked protests in several countries.

The arrest of the men comes two days before the anniversary of the killings on March 14, 2018. While police had questioned many people, before Tuesday nobody had been arrested or charged in the shooting of Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes.

A police officer carries evidence in the killing of Brazilian councilwoman Marielle Franco in Rio De Janeiro on March 12, 2019.Silvia Izquierdo / AP

Two men, both former police officers, were taken into custody early Tuesday, a police spokesman told The Associated Press. Per agency protocol, the spokesman asked that his name not be used.

Police identified the suspects as Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz. Lessa allegedly shot Franco and De Queiroz allegedly drove a car involved in the shooting, the spokesman said. Franco and Gomes were returning from a meeting Franco had attended on empowering black women when their car was attacked.

Franco, who was black, bisexual, and grew up in one of Rio de Janeiro's roughest neighborhoods, cut a stark image in Brazil, where most politicians are white men. She had been a frequent critic of police violence, particularly in poor neighborhoods called favelas.

Marches were planned for Thursday, the anniversary of the killings.

Police and politicians in the state of Rio de Janeiro have been under intense pressure to solve the case, which apparently involved sophisticated planned by the assassins, right down to making sure surveillance cameras were shut off on the street where the attack happened. Months after the hit, police even went to the trouble to recreate the crime scene, shutting down a large swath of downtown Rio for a day in attempts to gather clues.

Throughout the investigation, there have been numerous media leaks and optimistic statements by authorities about getting close to solving the case, drawing sharp criticism from the family of Franco and human rights groups that argued such actions lowered the chances of getting justice.

Marcelo Freixo, a state legislator and friend of Franco from the same left-leaning party, told Globo TV the arrests were an important step, but the case "has not been resolved."

"Who sent them (to kill Franco)?" Freixo said. "We don't accept the version that these people were motivated by passion and hate when they didn't even really know who Marielle was."