RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Rio de Janeiro police raided slums and called up reinforcements on Tuesday as they tried to douse a third day of violence orchestrated by suspected drug gang members who have attacked police stations and burned cars in the Brazilian city.
The wave of violence raises more questions over the beach-side city’s ability to host safely the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
Police arrested four people suspected of trying to set cars afire in the beachside neighborhood of Copacabana, the planned site of the Olympic beach volleyball event, which currently is the site of an international soccer conference.
Two people were killed on Tuesday when suspected drug traffickers shot up a car, although police said the incident apparently was unconnected to the rest of the violence.
The wave of violence began on Sunday with attacks on police stations and vehicles. Suspected drug gang members ordered people out of their cars on expressways and then set fire to the vehicles.
Police said they were carrying out operations in 15 slum areas and had pulled 1,200 officers from desk duties to patrol the streets.
“These fire attacks are being orchestrated by a criminal gang,” the police said in a statement, adding that no one had been killed or injured.
Gang violence has spilled over several times since Rio was awarded the Olympic Games in October last year. Gang members shot down a police helicopter weeks later, sparking police raids and violence that resulted in 30 deaths.
In August, gunmen from a slum armed with automatic weapons and grenades invaded a five-star hotel in one of Rio’s richest neighborhoods and held 35 people hostage for two hours.
Rio authorities have been taking back control of slums that have long been dominated by heavily armed drug gangs but hundreds of poor communities in the city of 6 million effectively remain no-go areas for the police and the state.
Rio de Janeiro state governor Sergio Cabral was quoted in the O Globo newspaper as saying that the violence was a sign of drug gangs’ desperation after being pushed out of their territory by police occupations. Specially trained police have occupied more than a dozen slums and pushed out drug traffickers in the past two years in a concerted attempt to restore the rule of law and improve security.