October 22, 2009 in Nation/World

Death count reaches 33 in Rio drug war violence

Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Police take positions during an operation in search of drugs, traffickers and weapons in the Vila Cruzeiro slum in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

SAO PAULO – Rio de Janeiro police on Wednesday announced seven more deaths and 17 arrests as drug-fueled violence continued to sweep over parts of the city that this month was named to host the 2016 Olympics.

The death toll has risen to 33 since Saturday, when rival gangs launched a turf war for control of drug trafficking in several favelas, or shantytowns, interspersed among Rio’s luxury hotels and residential areas.

Gangs are suspected of using high-caliber weapons to shoot down a helicopter on Saturday near Morro dos Macacos favela, which remains the scene of fighting between rival gangs and police trying to subdue them. Three of six police officers on board were killed in the crash.

Most of the dead this week were suspected gang members, but the victims also include several bystanders. On Wednesday, 18-year-old student Jose Carlos Guimaraes was seriously wounded in the abdomen by a stray bullet during a confrontation between police and criminals at Vila Cruzeiro favela.

Hundreds of Rio de Janeiro state police have been deployed in a bid to control the violence. Gov. Sergio Cabral has requested additional forces from the federal government.

The pressure is on local authorities to quell the violence as Rio begins the $14 billion preparation to host the Olympics in 2016. Mayor Eduardo Paes is on a foreign trip to generate investment in advance of the games.

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