Police, soldiers take over Rio slum

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 19, 2011 (AFP) - Hundreds of Brazilian police and soldiers backed by helicopters and armored vehicles swept in Sunday to take over a crime-ridden Rio slum as part of a pacification plan ahead of the football World Cup in 2014.

More than 100 marines, 160 elite police officers and 600 ordinary officers took part in the operation in the hillside Mangueira neighborhood, which went off without a shot being fired, a police spokesman said.

AFP – A riot soldier secures a point at Rio de Janeiro's Morro da Mangueira shantytown above Maracana stadium during a pre-announced operation in the slum, early in the morning of June 19, 2011.

Mangueira is located near Rio's famed Maracana football stadium, and is home to one of the city's oldest samba schools.

The pre-announced operation began just after dawn with 14 armored personnel carriers thundering up the slum's steep roads and helicopters clattering overhead, as security forces on foot followed with arms at the ready.

An hour and a half later, two of the vehicles reached the highest point of the slum and officers hoisted the Brazilian flag atop a water tank.

The forces met no resistance. Drug gangs which had been controlling the district had fled well in advance.

"We were woken at six in the morning by the helicopters. Everything was already calm before that. It would have been better if they spent the money on improving the hospitals," said one resident, a kitchen employee and mother of five who gave her first name as Bete.

Her seven-year-old nephew Donatan said he was afraid. "When I heard the noise, my legs started shaking. The house was shaking too. I thought the police were going to start shooting," he said.

Most residents refused to comment for fear of reprisals in case the drug gangs returned. The few who did refused to give their last name.

"All of that is because of the World Cup. But afterward, who will make sure it doesn't go back to like before, that the police won't leave?" asked Vera, 54.

Vinicius, 15, feared what the slum would be like under police control. "It's finished, going out at night. We'll have to stay at home."

Some residents said they were worried more about the police than the gang members who reigned but who also provided security. There were also concerns that gunfights might break out between police and drug traffickers.

The operation was the final link in a "security perimeter" authorities have set up around Maracana stadium, which will play host to the World Cup final, to be watched by more than 700 million television viewers around the world.

It will also be a venue for sports featuring in the 2016 Olympic Games, which Rio will also host.

Rio authorities have in the past three years been pushing steadily into several slums to stamp out nests of crime and violence ahead of the two big sporting events.

Unlike in previous years, when the police raided the neighborhoods only to exit soon after, leaving a vacuum quickly filled by returning gangs, now they are setting up local posts in the slums to maintain control.

US President Barack Obama highlighted the success of the pacification operations during a March visit to one of Rio's best-known slums, City of God.

To date, more than 20 of Rio's 1,000 slums have been cleared of criminal gangs. Around 20 percent of the city's six million inhabitants live in the shantytowns.

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