July 4, 2005

New deaths in Rio slum clashes spark protests

By Andrei Khalip

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - A boy and an old mandied in shootouts between police and drug gangs in two Rio deJaneiro shanty-towns on Monday, triggering protests byresidents tired of rampant crime and police violence.

In Latin America's biggest slum of Rocinha, a 60-year-oldpensioner was shot to death by a stray bullet. Another man diedfrom a heart attack during the fierce standoff, police said.

Rio has one of the world's highest murder rates, especiallyin its slums where drug gangs rule. More than 1,200 people werekilled in the first three months of this year, including deathsdue to police enforcement, police figures show.

Police killed nearly 1,000 people last year, about the sameas in 2003, with human rights groups accusing authorities ofexcessive violence and even summary executions of suspects.

Police on Monday entered the hillside neighborhood where upto 300,000 people live to arrest a suspected drug trafficker,but the officers were cornered by well-armed bandits and threewere wounded before an elite unit arrived to save them.

After the raid, in which one man was arrested, a group ofslum residents gathered and threatened to block an avenuepassing next to the slum and connecting the posh ocean sideneighborhoods of Leblon and Barra da Tijuca

The area has been immersed in a gangland turf war for overa year. A week ago, a battle between police and the local gangarmed with grenades sowed panic among thousands of commuters inRocinha. A teen-ager was killed.

In the giant Mare slum complex on the outskirts of thecity, a stray bullet killed an 11-year-old boy after midnighton Monday. Residents protested during the day by blocking theRed Line thoroughfare leading to the international airport.They also threw rubble and garbage on the asphalt, makingfrightened motorists abandon their vehicles.

Rio state Security Secretary Marcelo Itagiba lamented thedeath of the child, but said police would continue to confrontdrug traffickers. He said police came under attack in Mare andreturned fire. It was not clear whose bullet killed the boy.