January 18, 2000 07:09am
Armed Police Enforce Cover-Up on Beach
by: Tracey Ober
(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- Police in Rio de Janeiro have cracked down at a famous beach on what they regard as an unacceptable crime -- topless sunbathing.
Rio's five beach police officers in their T-shirts and shorts struck on Sunday, enforcing the city's public decency code by asking dozens of women on trendy Reserva da Barra beach, west of the more famous Copacabana and Ipanema, to cover their breasts.
Most of the women refused and the beach police called in reinforcements -- 20 officers in full uniform and toting assault rifles.
One woman -- Rose Moura, 34, who was lying on her stomach without a top -- still refused to cooperate and police arrested her for indecent exposure in a public place.
Her husband tried to intervene after one officer roughly grabbed Moura's arm to pull her upright while she was still half-naked. The police ended up arresting the husband, Antonio Saraiva de Almeida, 62, as well, angering the rest of the beach-goers who joined in the ruckus.
Brazil's main television network, Globo, caught the skirmish on film and broadcast it repeatedly on Monday, including an interview with an indignant Moura. She and her husband were released after posting bail of 150 reais ($84).
"I was quietly lying on the beach, without offending anyone," said Moura, a store clerk. "Why don't the police worry about capturing drug traffickers or car thieves?"
The police directive against nude or topless sunbathing, which was issued last week after a local newspaper called attention to the practice, has set off a storm of controversy in the beach-loving city.
Most residents cannot understand the fuss since Rio's famous teeny bikinis leave little to the imagination.
Nudist beaches are popular with models and samba dancers, who want to avoid tan lines since they often wear little more than glitter in Rio's decadent pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations.