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Day of clashes between drug gangs, police leaves 12 dead

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-10-19

At least 12 people were killed on Saturday in fierce clashes between drug gang members and scores of police in Rio de Janeiro. Gunfire brought down a police helicopter, killing two officers.

At least 12 people were killed on Saturday in fierce clashes between drug gang members and scores of police in Rio de Janeiro. 

Two policemen were killed and two others were wounded when their helicopter was shot down by drug gangs after a day of sporadic clashes in the northern Rio slums, military police commander Mario Sergio Duarte told AFP.

The pilot of the police helicopter was shot in the leg and had difficulty landing, according to Major Oderlei Santos. The aircraft exploded shortly after touching down. Two policemen were able to escape, but the other two passengers died in the resulting fire.

"The pilot and one other policeman managed to get out," said FRANCE 24 correspondent Mark Burleigh, reporting from Sao Paulo.

"This is a very unusual occurence, to have a police helicopter shot down," Burleigh added.

After the helicopter crash, renewed fighting broke out between the gangs and more than a hundred policemen, backed by Special Police Operations Battalion  troops and an armored vehicle.

Saturday's clashes erupted as gangs from the nearby "Morro do Sao Jao" favela tried to invade Morro dos Macacos and seize control, officials said.

During exchanges of gunfire with police throughout the day, 10 gang members were killed and six others -- including two civilians, a policeman and three gang members -- were wounded, an official from the Public Security Secretariat said.

Nine buses were set on fire in neighborhoods nearby the "Morro dos Macacos" favela in retaliation for a police operation aimed at ending gun battles between rival drug gangs. Bus driver Fabio Nascimento told AFP that 15 masked men, armed with guns and pistols, ordered him to leave his vehicle and evacuate the passengers, saying, "Get out, get out, we are going to light it on fire!"

Days after Rio won its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the first to be held in South America, the clashes highlight the challenges the city will face in gearing up for the games. Rio suffers from an epidemic of gang-fuelled violence, with an estimated 6,000 people murdered in 2008.

In May 2007, shortly after taking power, Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sergio Cabral ordered a massive offensive against organised crime. Police regularly launch operations in the favelas where the drug gangs are based.

Date created : 2009-10-18

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