Olympic fears as Rio drug gangs shoot down police helicopter

All-day battle in slum reaches new levels of violence as 12 die

Police chiefs in Rio de Janeiro yesterday mobilised an additional 4,500 officers in areas of the city that were plunged into violent chaos all day Saturday as rival drugs gangs battled for turf, renewing fears that the city may struggle to ensure security when it plays host to the 2016 Olympic Games.

Outbreaks of bloodshed are hardly uncommon in the hillside slums – or favelas – of Rio de Janeiro, already recognised as one of the most deadly cities in the world. Urban violence has been a feature of life there for decades. Last year saw over 6,000 murders in Rio, most related to drug-gang feuds.

But Saturday's spasm was unusually intense, sending dense plumes of black smoke into the sky and forcing government officials to issue words of reassurance about the games. It was only two weeks ago that the Brazilian city was chosen over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo to stage the games after London. It was hailed as a breakthrough for South America, which has never hosted an Olympics.

Several hours of gunfire concentrated in the Morro dos Macacos (Monkey Hill) slum left 10 people dead on the ground. Additionally two policemen died when bullets ripped into their helicopter that was hovering over the battle, sending it plummeting into a football field. Yesterday, officials said two more gang leaders had been killed by police action overnight.

Jose Mariano Beltrame, the security chief for the state of Rio de Janeiro, confirmed the additional deployments, saying that the reinforcements were coming from outlying areas of the city. Their first goal, he said, was to lower tensions. The favelas mostly cling to the hills surrounding the business districts and famed beach areas of Rio and are home to some 2 million people – as well as the drug gangs.

The Justice Ministry in Sao Paolo meanwhile said it was ready to provide members of an élite army unit to guard against a resurgence of the violence, but the offer was not taken up by city authorities. The areas that were so chaotic on Saturday appeared mostly peaceful yesterday as the clean-up began.

It was the first time a police helicopter had been brought down during the drug wars. After it crashed in a fireball into the football field, four police officers escaped with burns but two perished. Officials said they had not determined whether the aircraft had been deliberately targeted or had been hit by stray bullets.

But the events of the weekend are an embarrassment for the government which has barely finished celebrating its success in winning the Olympic bid.

"We told the International Olympic Committee that this won't be an easy thing, and they know that," Rio's state governor, Sergio Cabral, said. "We can put 40,000 people on the streets – federal, state and municipal police – and pull off the event."

Rio will have some practice in 2014 when it is due to welcome the football World Cup. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has meanwhile pointed out that the city successfully staged the Pan-American Games in 2007, in part by using 15,000 specially trained officers effectively to fence off the slums from the rest of the city.

Generally, the residents of downtown Rio and the tourists who join them are untouched by the violence going on in the slums. From time to time, however, it has spilled beyond the favelas, and has on occasion also caused the closure of the main road from the airport to the beaches.

Officials said the violence of Saturday erupted when gang members from the Red Command, based a different slum, invaded Morro dos Macacos, controlled by the Friends of Friends gang, in a bid to seize power. The area is roughly five miles from one of the zones of the city that have been designated for Olympic sports activities.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee