Brazilian soldiers and police have exchanged gunfire with drug gang members, pinning them down in a massive Rio de Janeiro slum complex.
About 800 troops are supporting a huge police offensive at the Alemao complex of shanty towns, an operation that came just a day after police took control of a nearby slum that also had been a gang stronghold.
Authorities are not publicising their plans, but it appeared an invasion of Alemao, one of Rio’s most dangerous slums, was imminent. “This is not the moment to circumvent risks, but rather to confront risks,” said Brazilian defence minister Nelson Jobim, who travelled to Rio to meet the state’s governor and top security officials.
Military spokesman Enio Zanan said soldiers had been taking fire from gang members hiding in the large complex and had said earlier that troops were not returning fire because it would endanger “innocent people in the community”. But AP Television News video showed at least one soldier firing on the slum and the newspaper O Globo reported heavy exchanges of gunfire between troops and gang members.
Mr Zanan said earlier that the confrontation had no set time or date to end and troops were ready to stand constant guard as long as needed.
Among those wounded was the chief Brazil photographer for Reuters news agency, Paulo Whitaker. Reuters said he received a bullet wound in the shoulder. The source of the shot was not immediately clear.
Police meanwhile, conducted door-to-door searches and patrols within the Vila Cruzeiro slum near Alemao. The area was taken by officers on Thursday afternoon during a five-hour operation using armoured vehicles and assault rifles.
Officials hailed their victory as a sign of a new Rio. The governor of Rio state, Sergio Cabral, said the moment was historic for proving that no part of Rio was beyond the reach of the law and the unprecedented co-operation of the armed forces and police.
“We have demonstrated to those who don’t respect the law … the pre-eminence of a democratic state governed by the law,” he said. “Bringing peace to this population makes this a very important day for Rio.”
Slum residents, streaming out down steep, narrow alleys to jobs in the city below, had mixed reactions as officers approached. Some ran away and others stayed to welcome them and show their identification.