Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rio police kill two in second day of clashes

By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Police in Rio de Janeiro said they killed two suspected drug traffickers and arrested four others when they invaded a slum on Sunday morning, a day after battles between drug gangs and police killed 12 people.

A police officer stands next to an armored police vehicle as he patrols Jacarezinho slum a day after drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter and set fire to five buses and a school, in Rio de Janeiro October 18, 2009. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

The violence, in which two police officers were killed when their helicopter was shot down on Saturday, left parts of the Brazilian city looking like a war zone in a blow to its image two weeks after it was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games.

A military police spokeswoman told Reuters that police killed the two suspected traffickers and arrested four in an operation in the Jacarezinho slum, one of the areas where violence flared on Saturday.

Security officials have cancelled all police leave and deployed an additional 3,500 troops to contain the violence, which started on Saturday morning when police intervened in a battle between two drug gangs in the "Hill of Monkeys" slum in Rio's north zone.

The police helicopter's pilot was forced to crash land on a football pitch after he was hit in the leg by a bullet. The aircraft burst into flames, killing the two officers and wounding four crew members. One of the officers is in grave condition with burns over his entire body, police said.

Ten suspected traffickers were killed on Saturday in clashes with police and each other, police said. A drug gang was also suspected of setting at least eight buses on fire on Saturday to distract police, sending plumes of thick smoke over the city known for its beauty and violence.

The beach-side city of 6 million people is one of the world's most violent, with almost daily shoot-outs between police and the heavily armed gangs that control many of its roughly 1,000 slums.

Officials played down the city's security problems during their successful bid for the 2016 Olympics, saying the violence could be contained during major events and pledging to expand state control to more slums.

"This is a problem of one region in a specific part of the city. This isn't in Rio de Janeiro," the Rio state security secretary Jose Beltrame told a news conference on Saturday.

Rio's police often respond brutally to the drug gangs, sometimes wounding or killing innocent residents. The police tactics have been condemned by human rights groups.

Last year police killed more than 1,100 suspects classified as "resisting arrest." Dead suspects are routinely described as suspected criminals, without investigations to back up the charge.

The city's cocaine gangs have become increasingly well armed in recent years with powerful assault rifles and grenades among their arsenal. Saturday's incident was the first time in Rio that a police helicopter had been shot down and destroyed.