Reuters International

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Police killed at least two suspected drug traffickers on Monday during a day-long shootout in the hills overlooking one of Rio de Janeiro's wealthiest districts, the latest in a wave of violent clashes that elsewhere in the city caused 8,000 children to miss school.

The shootout, in the Pavão-Pavãozinho slum in the hills above the beachside neighbourhoods of Ipanema and Copacabana, prolongs what many Rio residents fear is a sharp decline in security just two months after the city hosted the Olympics and as public security budgets have been slashed because of Brazil's worst recession in nearly a century.

After several weeks of growing confrontations between police and suspected criminals, the slum erupted early on Monday in shooting that continued into late afternoon. Various calibres of gunfire rang out repeatedly, as police vehicles blocked nearby roads and police helicopters circled overhead.

A police spokesman said that two suspected criminals had been killed and that the commander of a police squad for the neighbourhood had been injured.

Meanwhile, in Cidade de Deus, a well-known slum whose violent history was profiled in a blockbuster 2002 film, continuing confrontations between police and local gangs led to the closure of 21 nearby schools on Monday. At least two policemen working in the area have been killed recently.

The violence comes as criminals seek to retake territory that police occupied during the recent economic boom, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. It coincides with a recent uptick in robberies, assaults and homicides across metropolitan Rio.

The economic downturn, rising unemployment and enfeebled public finances, security experts said, have emboldened criminals and many of the drug trafficking gangs that in recent years had been in retreat.

Pavão-Pavãozinho, a community of more than 10,000 residents, was one of the first neighbourhoods to benefit from a now-struggling effort by the state government to "pacify" long-violent favelas, as the slums are known in Rio.

(Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Bill Rigby)


 Reuters International