Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Police kill six in continuing violence in Rio

MEAN STREETS Authorities insisted that they had the upper hand after further violence convulsed the Brazilian city, despite the deployment of 21,000 police officers

AP , RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Police officers patrol the streets of Rio de Janeiro on Saturday. The death toll in Rio's recent gang-related street violence rose over the weekend.

PHOTO: AP

Police killed six suspected criminals as authorities vowed to restore order ahead of a huge New Year's Eve bash on Copacabana Beach, deploying officers across Rio de Janeiro two days after gang-initiated violence left 19 dead.

Saturday's killings came as the suspected gang members apparently attempted to renew their attacks, spraying a police station and a shopping center with gunfire, injuring one bystander.

Authorities deployed nearly 21,000 police officers following Thursday's assaults on police stations and arson attacks on buses. They insisted they now have the upper hand and pledged to maintain peace and prevent the gangs from initiating more violence yesterday.

"In less than 24 hours, we've ended the mess they tried to start," police Colonel Hudson de Aguiar Miranda told the Agencia Estado news agency.

Five of the suspected criminals were killed in a nearly two-hour exchange of gunfire in a poor neighborhood, and a sixth was killed by police during a gunbattle in another shantytown, Brazilian media reported.

In another neighborhood, armed men raided a police station and stole guns, but no injuries were reported. Police conducted several raids in slums, seizing homemade bombs, Molotov cocktails, guns and a grenade.

Most of the violence happened in poor areas of Rio and appeared to have no effect on tourism in chic beach neighborhoods as the city filled with Brazilian and international visitors preparing to celebrate New Year's Eve.

It was not immediately clear whether the suspects killed on Saturday had any connections with the initial gang attacks on Thursday.

Also on Saturday, a 41-year-old Brazilian man among those in a bus torched on Thursday by criminals died after suffering burns over 80 percent of his body, said Sandra Barbosa, an administrator at the Pedro Segundo Hospital.

Seven other people were burned to death on the interstate bus set ablaze by gang members. Two police officers, two civilian bystanders and seven alleged gang members also were killed in other attacks around the city.

News reports and some authorities said the attacks were a response by the city's heavily armed drug gangs to increased pressure in recent months from militias, reportedly run by off-duty police officers to fight criminals.

Amnesty International campaigner Tim Cahill said the militias "according to official reports, and extensive newspaper coverage, have filled the vacuum left by the state expelling drug factions from favelas and imposing their own form of law, reportedly on the imposition of violence and extortion."

But authorities insisted the attacks were ordered by jailed gang leaders as a show of force before today's inauguration of the new state governor, Sergio Cabral.

About 20,700 officers will patrol the city during the celebrations -- a 20 percent increase over the year before. Some 2 million people are expected to crowd Copacabana Bedach to ring in the new year, including about half a million tourists.

In Brazil, many organized crime gangs operate from prisons, where they communicate by cellphone with their "soldiers" on the outside to control street crime, ordering violence when they want to send a message to authorities.

In May, similar attacks by an organized crime group in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, killed nearly 200 people, including some 40 police officers.

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