|Police raided Alemao slums in Rio de Janeiro yesterday. The operation was crucial to the city’s campaign against traffickers. (Jefferson Bernardes/ AFP/ Getty Images)|
Rio police claim victory against gangs
RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio police backed by helicopters and armored vehicles invaded a shantytown complex yesterday long held by traffickers, quickly taking over the key drug-gang stronghold in a historic victory meant to help make the city safe for the 2016 Olympics.
Black-clad officers poured into the Alemao slum complex just after sunrise amid heavy fire, with helicopters flying low to support the men on the ground. Officers encountered less resistance than expected, even if many gang members remained inside.
“We won,’’ said Mario Sergio Duarte, head of Rio state’s military police. “We brought freedom to the residents of Alemao.’’
The operation was crucial to the city’s campaign to push criminals out of slums where they have ruled with impunity, an effort to secure Rio before the city hosts World Cup matches in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics.
Governor Sergio Cabral of Rio de Janeiro told Globo TV that the campaign will go forward: “We will continue to conquer more territories and give peace to our citizens and the foreign visitors who come here.’’
The invasion came after gangs unleashed a week of violence in the city of 6 million, with at least 35 deaths and more than 100 cars and buses set on fire — many in protest against police raids of the past two years.
Yesterday’s operation gripped the nation’s attention. Several networks broadcast it live and a mass calling for peace was celebrated at the base of Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.
At least two people were in injured in the invasion.
Police seized weapons, ammunition, and drugs in the complex, which is home to at least 85,000 people.
TV images showed police entering a four-story home at the top of the slum believed to belong to one of the local drug leaders. Its air conditioners, flat-screen television, computer, whirlpool, pool, and new appliances were a stark contrast to the bare wooden shacks that house most of the area’s people.
Some gunmen began to surrender, and about 10 were arrested in the operation.