Saturday, October 17, 2009

Helicopter Downed as 12 Killed In Rio Violence

Filed at 7:04 p.m. ET

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter in Rio de Janeiro Saturday, killing two officers, and 10 suspected gang members were killed in the city's worst recent outbreak of violence, police said.

The violence, in which authorities said 8 buses were set on fire by suspected traffickers and 6 police officers wounded, came only two weeks after the Brazilian city was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games despite worries over high levels of violence.

The helicopter carrying six crew came down after its pilot was hit in the leg by a bullet as it flew over the "Hill of Monkeys" slum in the city's north zone, where police were responding to a gun battle between rival gangs, Major Oderlei Santos of the military police told Reuters.

He said it was the first time that a police helicopter had been shot down and destroyed in Rio.

Despite being wounded, the pilot managed to land the aircraft on a football pitch but it then exploded in flames, killing two officers and wounding the other four crew members, including the pilot, one of them gravely.

The 10 suspected traffickers were killed by police and in the gun battle between rival gangs. Four residents were wounded by stray bullets, police said.

A Reuters photographer at the slum said he saw three bodies laid out on the ground. Residents said the three were not drug traffickers and had been caught in a cross-fire.

"It was a night of chaos. ... We are still really scared," 17-year-old slum resident Cristina Soares was quoted as saying by the O Globo newspaper's website.

"Later on, it is going to get worse."

Rio's state security secretary, Jose Beltrame, said gang members set fire to a total of 8 buses in the northern zone in an apparent attempt to distract security forces.

O Globo, which showed images of the destroyed helicopter and several buses in flames, quoted witnesses as saying that about 15 masked, armed men had ordered passengers to leave one bus before setting it on fire.

Security forces said the situation was now under control and an additional 3,500 troops had been put on duty to reinforce the affected areas and hunt for the criminals.

"We will put all our efforts into responding to this action by criminals," Mario Sergio Duarte, the commander-general of Rio's military police, told a news conference.

The beach-side city of six million people is one of the world's most violent, with almost daily shoot-outs between police and the heavily armed gangs that control many of its roughly 1,000 slums.

Officials played down the city's security problems during their successful bid for the 2016 Olympics, saying the violence could be contained during major events and pledging to expand state control to more slums.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Ana Nicolaci da Costa, Eduardo Simoes and Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; editing by Todd Eastham)

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