Police invaded a shantytown long held by drug traffickers yesterday, quickly taking over the key drug gang stronghold in a historic victory meant to help to make Rio de Janeiro safe for the 2016 Olympics.
Black-clad officers, backed by helicopters and armoured vehicles, poured into the Alemao slum just after dawn amid heavy gunfire. But they encountered less resistance than expected, even if many gang members stayed inside. "We won," said Mario Sergio Duarte, the 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 the slums before Rio hosts World Cup matches in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics. Rio de Janeiro's governor, Sergio Cabral, vowed: "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 more than 100 cars and buses set on fire – many in protest against police raids of the past two years – and at least 35 deaths, mostly of suspected traffickers.
The operation gripped the nation's attention. Several television networks broadcast it live and a Mass calling for peace was celebrated at the base of Rio's iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. At least two people were hurt in the invasion.