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The List: Murder Capitals of the World

Reliable global crime statistics are hard to come by, but here are five cities that stand in a class all their own when it comes to brutal, homicidal violence.

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Caracas, Venezuela

Population: 3.2 million

Murder rate: 130 per 100,000 residents (official)

Whats happening: The capital of Chvez country, Caracas has become far more dangerous in recent years than any South American city, even beating out the once notorious Bogot. Whats worse, the citys official homicide statistics likely fall short of the mark because they omit prison-related murders as well as deaths that the state never gets around to properly categorizing. The numbers also dont count those who died while resisting arrest, suggesting that Caracass copsalready known for their brutality against student protestersmight be cooking the books. Many have pointed the finger at El Presidente, whose government has failed to tackle the countrys rising rates of violent crime. In fact, since Chvez took over in 1998, Venezuelas official homicide rate has climbed 67 percentmostly due to increased drug and gang violence. Ramn Rodrguez Chacn, who recently resigned as interior minister, claimed in July that homicide has dropped 27 percent since Januarybut experts say hes just playing with numbers. As for Caracas, some speculate that its murder rate is closer to 160 per 100,000.

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Cape Town, South Africa

Population: 3.5 million

Murder rate: 62 per 100,000 inhabitants

Whats happening: A European bastion in the heart of turbulent South Africa, picturesque Cape Town nonetheless has the countrys highest murder rate. The citys homicides usually take place in suburban townships rather than in the more upscale urban areas where tourists visit. According to the South African Police Service, most of the Cape Town areas violent crimes happen between people who know one another, including a horrific case last year in which four males doused a female friend in gasoline and lit her on fire. Occurring just outside city limits, the incident apparently happened after the assailants had taken hard drugs, the use of which has risen along with Cape Towns violent crime rate. The whopping 12.7 percent rise in the citys murder rate from 2006 to 2007 certainly has local politicians worried, especially as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup. The government has hired more police officers to prepare for the tournament, which could help cut crime in soccer-fan hot spots. But until better efforts are made to police Cape Towns poverty-stricken townships, its unlikely that the murder ratean average of 5.9 per daywill see any major drop.

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New Orleans, United States

Population: 220,614 to 312,000 (2007); estimates vary due to displacement of people after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Murder rate: Estimates range from 67 (New Orleans Police Department) to 95 (Federal Bureau of Investigation) per 100,000

Whats happening: With its grinding poverty, an inadequate school system, a prevalence of public housing, and a high incarceration rate, the Big Easy has long been plagued with a high rate of violent crime. Katrina didnt help. Since the hurricane struck in 2005, drug dealers have been fighting over a smaller group of users, leading to many killings. On just one four-block stretch of Josephine Street, in the city center, four people were murdered in 2007 and 15 people shot, including a double homicide on Christmas day. A precise murder rate is hard to pinpoint because the population is swelling quickly, approaching its pre-Katrina numbers. Whether you use New Orleanss own figures or the FBIs, however, the city remains the most deadly in the United States, easily surpassing Detroit and Baltimore with 46 and 45 murders per 100,000 people, respectively.

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Moscow, Russia

Population: 10.4 million

Murder rate: 9.6 per 100,000 (estimate)

Whats happening: Moscows murder rate is nothing compared with that of Caracas or Cape Town, but the city still ranks way above other major European capitals. London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid, for instance, all had rates below 2 murders per 100,000 in 2006. The Russian capitals homicide rate is down 15 percent this year from last, but the recent surge in hate crimesincluding the deadly beating of a Tajik carpenter by a gang of youths on Valentines Daysuggests that the lull might be temporary. Sixty ethnically motivated killings have already happened this year, part of a sixfold increase in hate crimes committed in the city during 2007. Several of the murders have been attributed to ultranationalist skinhead groups like the Spas, who killed 11 people in a 2006 bombing of a multiethnic market in northern Moscow. The Russian government has finally stepped up to combat the problem, assisting migrant groups and cracking down on street gangs. Still, the continued rise in extremist attacks is worrisome. And along with migrants, journalists and other high-profile people in Moscow might also want to be a little wary in Russia62 contract murders took place in the country in 2005, according to official statistics.

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Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Population: 254,200 (2000 census)

Murder rate: 54 per 100,000 (2004 official figure)

Whats happening: The capital of island country Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby might seem like a surprising addition to this list. But its high violent crime rates, along with high levels of police corruption and gang activity, helped earn the city the dubious title of worst city in a 2004 Economist Intelligence Unit survey. With gangs called raskols controlling the city centers and unemployment rates hovering around 80 percent, its easy to see how Port Moresby beat out the 130 other survey contenders. Port Moresbys police dont seem to be helping the crime situationlast November, five officers were charged with offenses ranging from murder to rape. And in August, the citys police barracks were put on a three-month curfew due to a recent slew of bank heists reportedly planned inside the stations by officers and their co-conspirators. Rising tensions between Chinese migrants and native Papua New Guineans are also cause for alarm, as are reports of increased activity of organized Chinese crime syndicates.

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