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    Brazilian police take over Rio's biggest slum

    RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — More than 3,000 police and soldiers backed by armored personnel carriers raced into Brazil's biggest slum before dawn Sunday, quickly gaining control of a shantytown ruled for decades by a heavily armed drug gang.

    It was the most ambitious operation yet in an effort to increase security before Rio hosts the final matches of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Officials are counting on those events to signal Brazil's arrival as a global economic, political and cultural power.

    "We're taking back this territory for the 100,000 citizens of Rocinha, people who have needed peace," said Sergio Cabral, governor of Rio de Janeiro state.

    The action in Rocinha is part of a campaign to drive the drug gangs out of the city's slums, where the traffickers often rule unchallenged. The city of Rio de Janeiro has more than 1,000 shantytowns where about one-third of its 6 million people live.

    Authorities said it took just 90 minutes to seize control of Rocinha. Police simultaneously overran the neighboring Vidigal slum, also previously dominated by the drug gang Friends of Friends.

    Both slums sit between two of Rio's richest neighborhoods, and Rocinha's ramshackle shacks climb a mountainside covered in Atlantic rain forest. Police methodically cleared alleys and streets on their way up steep, winding roads.

    Huey helicopters continued to pound the air above, crisscrossing the hill and flying low over the jungle surrounding the slum, as police hunted down suspects who may have fled into the forest. By midday, local outlets reported just one arrest, though that couldn't be independently confirmed.

    Residents peeked out their windows and stared as the massive armored carriers blasted up streets. Rifle-toting officers from the BOPE police units, made famous by two "Elite Squad" films, trained their weapons down narrow corridors.

    Down a side alleyway, police discovered a house they said belonged to the No. 2 gang leader, Sandro Luiz de Paula Amorim, known as "Peixe," who was captured by police a few days earlier as they circled Rocinha with roadblocks.

    In stark contrast to the impoverished shacks around it, Amorim's three-story home was outfitted with a large whirlpool bath, swimming pool, massive aquarium, high definition TV and just one book: the ancient Chinese military text "Art of War."

    One resident applauded the police invasion. "Tell the world we're not all drug traffickers! We're working people and now they're coming to liberate us," a man yelled as police rolled by.

    Marisa Costa da Silva, 54, who runs a small candy shop at the base of the slum, was less sure. "Lord knows if there will be war or peace, or even if things will be better if police take this slum," she said. "We've heard they've been abusive to slum residents in other places they've taken. I have no idea what to expect."

    Rocinha's location has made it one of the most lucrative and largest drug distribution points in the city.

    "Rocinha is one of the most strategically important points for police to control in Rio de Janeiro," said Paulo Storani, a security consultant and former captain in the elite BOPE police unit leading the invasion. "The pacification of Rocinha means that authorities have closed a security loop around the areas that will host most of the Olympic and World Cup activities."

    Some estimates say the Friends of Friends gang brings in more than $50 million in drug sales annually in Rocinha and Vidigal alone. Much of the drugs are sold to tourists staying in the posh beach neighborhoods of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana and to middle- and upper-class Brazilians who live there.

    "This action is a huge blow to the structure of drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro and against the second-largest drug faction," Storani said. "Beyond that, it's essential to have security in this area simply because of the huge number of people who circulate there."

    Law enforcement agents will remain in Rocinha for an undetermined time, said Alberto Pinheiro Neto, head of operations for the military police.

    Officials are now calling on the shantytown's residents to help law enforcement find drugs and weapons hidden in the community. The head of Rio's civil police, Marta Rocha, made a special appeal to the "mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts" to collaborate with the peacekeeping effort.

    "Women of Rocinha, give us this information, bring us the news that will allow us to sweep through this territory that belongs to the people of Rocinha," she said. "The day is starting. There is no going back. I am sure the population will help."

    The invasion of Rocinha comes near the end of a watershed year in the fight against drug gangs. Rio's program of installing permanent "police pacification units" in slums started in 2008.

    The slums initially targeted were not among the most violent. But last November, gangs struck back with a weeklong spree of attacks, burning buses, robbing motorists on highways and spreading fear and chaos. At least 36 people died in the violence, mostly suspected drug traffickers fighting with police.

    The surge of violence prodded police to invade the much-feared Alemao complex of slums on Rio's north side, near a highway leading to the international airport. Police routed the gangsters and took control within hours, imbuing the city with a new confidence that its security woes might be overcome even though most gang leaders had escaped capture.

    A year later, the operation in Rocinha comes after careful planning and at a time chosen by authorities.

    Police officials openly announced when they planned to invade Rocinha. They've used that tactic before and say it's led to fewer firefights during the incursions, with gang members either fleeing or simply laying down their weapons before police arrive. Up to 2,000 officers are expected to be involved.

    In recent days, police set up roadblocks at Rocinha's entrances to capture the slum's fleeing drug kingpins.

    The effort paid off Thursday, when police captured Antonio Bonfim Lopes, known as "Nem," who was the most-wanted drug trafficker in Rio. He was found hiding in the trunk of a car. His top lieutenants were also captured in recent days.


    Associated Press writer Juliana Barbassa contributed to this report.


    • james  •  Palm Springs, United States  •  Yesterday
      Why do the police have to wait until the World Cup and Olympics are coming to Rio before they start their clean-up efforts? This should be a routine procedure!
    • N. PA  •  Clarks Summit, United States  •  Yesterday
      If it wasn't for the sports events and the potential revenue, the place would a remain drug-infested slum.
    • dea--B  •  Columbia, United States  •  Yesterday
      and after the 'games' it will return to ''business as usual'' and ignored
    • Dawn  •  Tampa, United States  •  Yesterday
      here is only one reason the Brazilian government suddenly gives a #$%$ about the favelas. It has to do with money and tourism.
    • Anthony L  •  St. Paul, United States  •  Yesterday
      There is only one reason the Brazilian government suddenly gives a #$%$ about the favelas. It has to do with money and tourism. They should have done this years ago. Instead corrupt police have been selling guns and drugs to the slum criminals.
    • who  •  Dallas, United States  •  Yesterday
      clean up washington dc now thats where all kinds of crooks hang out!
    • JJ  •  Malvern, United States  •  Yesterday
      So what will be done with the desperately poor but honest, unfortunate people that live there with the outlaws for no other reason than they have no choice?
    • William S.  •  Hampton, United States  •  Yesterday
      I lived in Brazil, many years ago. Back then the police were very corrupt. I doubt things have changed that much.
    • keno  •  Coeur D'alene, United States  •  Yesterday
      "Both slums sit between two of Rio's richest neighborhoods..." Now, where will the middle and upper classes get their recreational drugs and prostitutes?
    • kill me Yesterday
      that's where the rich get their drugs, the police are the middle man.
    • Amin  •  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  •  Yesterday
      what the article doesnt tell you is that the police sell the dealers guns for $15,000 that only cost $1000. The police extort money from the dealers in the amount of almost half of there profit. Thats right profit. Its a bussiness like it or not. It has an ugly face on it that youd be surprised who support it by being heavy or even casual drug users. And yes they do tip them off in lots of instances. Thos "slums" are safer than most ghettos of any color i know in the good 'ol US of A. They are so safe in fact that the view from the mansions are IN-CREDI-BLE! What the article also doesnt tell you is that those "gangs" keep the slums safe. A bit of a distorted view but true. Wake up world the Brazilan government just like most governments is full of #$%$ The police are the real crimals here. That you can believe, i know it.
    • Synical1 Yesterday
      Although this sounds like good news for a change, one has to wonder if there is more to this story than what is being reported - especially when there have been numerous reports that many of these slums will be cleared to make way for the olympic games.
    • Cassandra says Yesterday
      Now, if they'd only host the Olympics or the World Cup in East LA, maybe that area would be cleaned up, too.
    • Sure thing!  •  Houston, United States  •  Yesterday
      Make no mistake: all the government cares about is finding a way to save face because of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. There is no way a "single shot " wouldn't have been fired under "normal" circunstances. They've made other "arrangements".
    • George Mason  •  Eugene, United States  •  Yesterday
      This is the same slum that 20 years ago the businessmen were paying a bounty for the killing of the homeless street children. Interesting.
    • steven Yesterday
      So Rio is pretty much like the texas border with guns and drugs.
    • Phil  •  Sao Paulo, Brazil  •  Yesterday
      I am an American living in Brasil. If law abiding Brasilians were allowed to carry guns you would probably find a lot of dead criminals on the streets each day until the problem is solved.. They would think twice about taking over a bus and trying to rob everyone one the bus or entering homes, hospitals and schools to rob like they do down here. Brasilians are helpless victims down here with few resources to protect themselves.
    • United Entertainment Yesterday
      If NYPD do not arrest Wall St crooks, it won't be long before USA becomes shanty towns like Brazil in this economic crisis....
      Good luck to all timid Americans!
    • ElvisQ Yesterday
      I hope Mexico is watching.
    • Bob Yesterday
      Maybe they can come here an show our police how it is done. We have some cities that need help.
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