October 18, 2009 in Nation/World

Rival drug gangs, police clash in Rio

Flora Charner Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A bus burns Saturday in the Jacarezinho slum of northern Rio de Janeiro, where gunbattles raged in clashes between rival gangs and police. Police said at least eight buses were set on fire in nearby slums during the shootouts.
(Full-size photo)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter during a gunbattle between rival gangs Saturday, killing two officers and injuring four in a burst of violence just two weeks after the city was chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

Ten suspected drug traffickers were also killed during the fighting in a shantytown, and two bystanders were injured, officials said.

Bullets flying from the Morro dos Macacos (“Monkey Hill” in Portuguese) slum in northern Rio de Janeiro tore into the helicopter and hit the pilot in the leg as he hovered above the shootout, causing him to lose control and crash.

Two officers died, while the pilot and three other policemen escaped after the craft hit the ground and burst into flames.

Officials did not know whether the gangs targeted the helicopter or whether it was hit by stray bullets, but the event underscored security concerns that have dogged Brazil’s second-largest city for decades.

Despite the mayhem, officials defended Rio’s ability to control violence ahead of the Olympics as well as before 2014, when Brazil will host the World Cup soccer event with games in Rio.

“We told the International Olympic Committee that this won’t be an easy thing, and they know that,” said Rio state Gov. Sergio Cabral. “We can put 40,000 people on the streets – federal, state and municipal police – and pull off the event.”

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