At least three were killed and five were injured during an hour long shootout between Brazilian police and drug traffickers in two Rio slums, triggering panic in the nearby Copacabana and Ipanema tourist areas. The clashes in the city caused 8000 children to miss their schools.
The shootout erupted during a raid on drug traffickers in the Pavao-Pavaozinho slum, which is entrenched between and overlooks the two fancy neighbourhoods, Rio police said in a statement.
Witnesses said the exchange lasted for hours and they heard a bomb go off near the General Osario subway station in Ipanema, but police did not confirm the blast. The gunfire caused shopkeepers in Copacabana and Ipanema to shutter their businesses.
Two “criminals” were wounded in a morning clash and died at the hospital. A third “fell off a cliff and died,” military police said in a statement to media about the shootouts in the Cantagalo and Pavao-Pavaozinho favelas.
The man who fell to his death was wearing a backpack containing about eight kilograms (almost 18 pounds) of cocaine, the statement said. In the afternoon, another clash wounded three police officers and two suspects.
Eight suspects were arrested and eight firearms seized, police said. The clashes began when several police bases were attacked in Pavao-Pavaozinho, said the Police Pacification Unit (UPP), specially created police squads set up to restore law and order in Rio de Janeiro’s crime-ridden slums.
Police called in reinforcements and the fight dragged into the afternoon. As of 3:00 pm (1800 GMT), shots could still be heard and a military helicopter flew overhead.
The violence comes as criminals seek to retake territory that police occupied during the recent economic boom, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. It coincides with a recent uptick in robberies, assaults and homicides across metropolitan Rio.
Security experts said the economic downturn, rising unemployment and enfeebled public finances had emboldened criminals and many of the drug trafficking gangs that in recent years had been in retreat.
Pavão-Pavãozinho, a community of more than 10,000 residents, was one of the first neighbourhoods to benefit from a now-struggling effort by the state government to “pacify” long-violent favelas, as the slums are known in Rio.
Passersby and cars sped up as they drove past the slum, and some locals said they heard grenade blasts. Stores pulled down their metal shutters and one entrance to a subway stop in Ipanema shut down, news reports said. Rio, a city of 6.5 million, is plagued by crime fueled in large part by fighting between heavily armed drug trafficking gangs. The government deployed 85,000 police and soldiers during this summer’s Olympics in Rio — twice the number used in the 2012 Summer Games in London.