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Outrage in Brazil as man dies in police car ‘gas chamber’

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Brazilian man has died of asphyixiation after being arrested by police and locked inside the back of an SUV with what appears to be a gas cannister.

Outrage has been sparked after a video went viral showing two officers in the northeastern city of Umbauba pinning 38-year-old Genivaldo de Jesus Santos to the street on Wednesday.

Shocking images show officers forcibly keeping him in the back of their police vehicle as a dense cloud of white smoke, which appears to be tear gas, emerges from the SUV.

The man can be heard screaming and his legs, which stick out of the SUV, begin to kick and then eventually stop moving. The officers seem undisturbed by onlookers surrounding them.

Social media erupted over the images, and dozens of people gathered to block a road and burn tyres in protest on Wednesday.

“The population is outraged,” a man can be heard saying in a video of the protest posted on Twitter. “They murdered the guy!” another told the crowd through a loudspeaker.

In a statement, the Federal Highway Police said the man had displayed aggressive behavior and was “actively resisting” the officers who pulled him over.

The agents immobilised him, the statement said, then used “instruments of lesser offensive potential” to contain him.

The statements says Santos fell ill as he was being transported to a police precinct and was taken to a hospital, where his death was confirmed.

A preliminary autopsy concluded the man died of respiratory failure due to “mechanical asphyxia,” a spokesperson for Sergipe state’s forensic institute said.

The incident “shocked Brazilian society due to the level of its brutality, exposing the institution’s lack of preparedness to guarantee that its agents obey basic procedures,” the Brazilian Public Security Forum, an independent group, said in a statement.

Renata Souza, a black activist and politician from Rio de Janeiro, wrote on Twitter: “Police officers turned a car into a gas chamber and executed a mentally ill man.

“There are no words in the face of such inhumanity. Brazil is an extermination camp.”

President Jair Bolsonaro said he would find out from the Federal Highway Police what happened. He also mentioned a separate incident two weeks ago when a man shot two on-duty highway officers.

The Federal Police opened an investigation. The forensic institute must submit its final, more in-depth report to the Federal Police within 10 days.

The incident comes just days after officers of the highway police participated in an operation in Rio de Janiero that left more than 20 people dead.  Police have said they had no choice but to use lethal force, but accounts from residents published in local media have raised doubts on that claim.

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