Bloodbath in Rio slum


Summary

Yesterday's assault triggered the worst urban combat in a two-month siege of the Alemao shantytown, where fighting has killed at least 40 people and injured more than 80 since May.

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Authorities seeking to restoring order to an area long ruled by gangs sent 1,350 officers and elite federal police to the slum, where they were met by grenades and fusillades from automatic weapons.

At least 10 people were wounded in the operation, most of them bystanders caught in the crossfire or hit by stray bullets.

But all those killed were suspected members of gangs that dominate the area's thriving street-corner drug trade, says Rio de Janeiro state security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame.

"No innocent people were killed," Beltrame says, adding that the operation was a "bitter remedy" but would continue indefinitely.

Parents struggle to keep kids safe

Parents frantically tried to protect their children from the gunfire after classes were suspended.

Gang members dumped oil on streets to try to prevent armoured cars from entering and police had to use a backhoe to remove a truck blocking the entrance to the adjacent Grota shantytown, where some of the heaviest fighting took place.

The conflict was touched off by the killing of two police officers on May 2, and police and the gangs have been exchanging gunfire ever since with neither side giving much ground.

Toll could rise

Authorities said yesterday's death toll could rise because police believed some bodies had not been recovered.

Mr Beltrame denied the operation was related to the upcoming Pan American Games, one of Latin America's most important sporting events.

Security is a key concern for the July 13-29 games, when thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected in the city.

"The operation could have taken place two months ago, but the consequences would have been much worse," Mr Beltrame says.

"We used the time to gather intelligence and achieve our objectives."

Officials said that 2,000 more elite police will be sent to Rio in coming days to boost security for the games and that the number will rise to 6,000.


Yesterday's assault triggered the worst urban combat in a two-month siege of the Alemao shantytown, where fighting has killed at least 40 people and injured more than 80 since May.

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Authorities seeking to restoring order to an area long ruled by gangs sent 1,350 officers and elite federal police to the slum, where they were met by grenades and fusillades from automatic weapons.

At least 10 people were wounded in the operation, most of them bystanders caught in the crossfire or hit by stray bullets.

But all those killed were suspected members of gangs that dominate the area's thriving street-corner drug trade, says Rio de Janeiro state security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame.

"No innocent people were killed," Beltrame says, adding that the operation was a "bitter remedy" but would continue indefinitely.

Parents struggle to keep kids safe

Parents frantically tried to protect their children from the gunfire after classes were suspended.

Gang members dumped oil on streets to try to prevent armoured cars from entering and police had to use a backhoe to remove a truck blocking the entrance to the adjacent Grota shantytown, where some of the heaviest fighting took place.

The conflict was touched off by the killing of two police officers on May 2, and police and the gangs have been exchanging gunfire ever since with neither side giving much ground.

Toll could rise

Authorities said yesterday's death toll could rise because police believed some bodies had not been recovered.

Mr Beltrame denied the operation was related to the upcoming Pan American Games, one of Latin America's most important sporting events.

Security is a key concern for the July 13-29 games, when thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected in the city.

"The operation could have taken place two months ago, but the consequences would have been much worse," Mr Beltrame says.

"We used the time to gather intelligence and achieve our objectives."

Officials said that 2,000 more elite police will be sent to Rio in coming days to boost security for the games and that the number will rise to 6,000.