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Tanks roll into Rio slum as war on gangs escalates

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-11-25

Military tanks were sent into a slum in northern Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, as suspected gang members attempting to reclaim lost turf clashed with heavily armed police for a fifth straight day, leaving as many as 30 people dead.

AFP - Armored military vehicles rolled into an especially violent Rio slum Thursday supporting a police crackdown on drug gangs that has killed at least 30 people.

Six M113 armored personnel carriers armed with .50 caliber machine guns were sent to Vila Cruzeiro, a slum in northern Rio de Janeiro where police say the drug gangs have taken refuge after they were forced out of other neighborhoods.

TV networks broadcasting live from helicopters hovering above showed knots of men, many with packs and automatic rifles strapped to their backs, scrambling up the hills behind the slum ahead of the police offensive.

Some of the armed men could be seen trying to drive up the hills, covered with thick bushes, in motorcycles and even cars.

Police have deployed their own armored vehicles, helicopters and thousands of heavily armed agents for a widespread crackdown in the slums, known here as favelas.

The death toll in violence since the crackdown began on Sunday rose to 30, police said, including at least seven killed in the Thursday operation.

Rio authorities are seeking to impose the law in the favelas ahead of hosting of two of the world's largest sporting events, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.

The gangs are fighting back by opening fire on police stations and setting cars and busses ablaze, police said.

Military police were heading the Vila Cruzeiro operation, while navy personnel were driving the M113s, a police spokesman said.

The armored tracked vehicles, also known as Gavins, are nimble enough to climb the steep hills where the favelas are located, and yet can "roll over any obstacle they face," the police spokesman told local media.

The goal is to "take control of the territory again, territory that was taken by drug traffickers," the spokesman said.

Police said they were battling two factions of drug dealers that have joined forces seeking to disrupt a two-year-old favela pacification program, which is aimed at wresting the densely populated areas from the gangs' control.

The chaos began late Sunday when gang members attacked police stations in northern Rio.

According to the latest toll, 176 people have been detained in the vast sweep and 55 vehicles, including city busses, set ablaze. Some of those arrested were caught holding bottles filled with gasoline. Police have also confiscated weapons and drugs.

Overnight Wednesday to Thursday six buses were torched, said police, and ten suspects were arrested on drug trafficking charges and sent to maximum security prisons in distant states.

The spectacle of urban warfare has paralyzed a large part of Rio, especially in the northern, violence-wracked area.

Images of buses engulfed in flames and heavily armed police and special forces agents operating in the slums have been shown for days in the Brazilian media.

Around two million of Rio's inhabitants -- a third of the population -- live in more than 1,000 slums.

Some 17,500 personnel are "on alert" for the operation, police said.

In October 2009 drug gangs shot down a police helicopter near the Maracana stadium -- one of the main sites of the 2014 World Cup -- killing three officers and destroying the aircraft.

State Governor Sergio Cabral announced a vast crackdown on crime soon after taking office in January 2007, and began full-time operations in the several city favelas.


Date created : 2010-11-25


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