After warning drug traffickers to surrender or face an assault, Brazilian security forces have begun to move into a major Rio de Janeiro slum.
Several hundred alleged drug dealers are believed to still be hiding near the Alemao favela (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), where exchanges of fire were heard.
On Saturday the slum was surrounded by hundreds of police and soldiers, some in armoured vehicles.
The Alemao favela is a complex of 14 smaller neighbourhoods which surrounds a road leading to the international airport.
65,000 people live there (2002 estimates), in 18,000 homes – 15% without sewage.
Regular clashes between armed gangs and police take place in this favela, which has been the target of previous operations against drug traffickers. For example in June 2007, 19 people died.
The offensive began a week ago and dozens have died since.
The aim of the operation is to make the city safer for the World Cup in 2014 and Olympic Games in 2016, authorities said.
‘Respond with force’
Tanks and helicopters support the 2,600 paratroopers, marines and members of elite police units who are starting to enter favela da Grota. It is part of the larger Alemao complex of slums in northern Rio.
About 500 to 600 drug traffickers are in the area, refusing to come out, reports suggest.
For the past week, drug gangs have fought back by firing on police and setting cars and buses ablaze.
At sunset on Saturday, a deadline given to drug gangs to surrender ran out. Police warned that if necessary they would use violence.
“We want them to turn themselves in peacefully,” said police spokesman Henrique Lima Castro Saraiva.
“We do not want a bloodbath, but if they call us to war we will respond with force.”
Saturday night, security forces remained poised to move into the favela and only one volley of gunfire was heard, making it the calmest night in a week.
Earlier this week, police took control of the Vila Cruzeiro favela. Therefore the suspected traffickers fled to Alemao. (map below, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Brazilian police has been accused by human rights organisation, Amnesty International, of being heavy-handed.