Drug gang members battle police in Rio

Suspected gang members burned cars and buses in Rio de Janeiro yesterday in a fourth day of violence, defying a heavy police presence and raids on slums which left seven dead.

The wave of violence has raised further doubts about Rio's ability to safely host the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 and marred the city's easygoing image.

Assailants set fire to 15 cars and buses on Tuesday night and yesterday morning. Police reported seven suspected drug traffickers, all of them armed, were killed in clashes with officers, taking the death toll from the recent violence to nine.

The trouble began on Sunday with attacks on police stations and vehicles, actions Rio's top security official said were ordered by imprisoned gang members. Authorities say the attacks are a protest by traffickers after being forced from their turf by police occupations of more than a dozen slums in the past two years.

"This is a desperate attempt to weaken our security efforts," said Sergio Cabral, Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. "What they want is to create panic, for society to retreat, but we will not retreat."

Police continued to conduct raids on suspected drug traffickers in slums. They said they arrested one suspect carrying homemade explosives and a container of flammable liquid.