RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Police killed three suspected drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, bringing to 29 the total number of deaths since the city’s worst recent outbreak of violence erupted over the weekend.
The three suspects were killed after they opened fire on police who were searching a slum in the city’s north for gang members linked to shooting down a police helicopter on Saturday, police spokesman Oderlei Santos said.
State authorities have mobilized several thousand police to secure the city and search for drug traffickers who caused the helicopter to crash, killing three police officers.
Twenty-three suspected gang members and three residents caught in cross-fire between gangs have been killed since Saturday in violence that has tarnished Rio’s image only a few weeks after it was awarded the 2016 Olympics.
The image of a dead suspected trafficker stuffed into a shopping cart and left on a road was carried by Brazilian and international newspapers on Wednesday, an example of the extreme gang violence and a sharp contrast to the scenes of joy on Copacabana beach that were broadcast around the world this month when Rio won the Olympics.
Santos said other police operations were being carried out across the city of six million people on Wednesday. There was at least one resulting gun battle between police and armed men.
Residents in one slum near where the helicopter went down left their homes on Tuesday night and were afraid to return because of rumors that a gang from another slum was planning an invasion.
“Everyone is afraid of going back to their homes, it’s better to stay on the street,” one male resident who asked not to be identified told reporters.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered Rio state nearly $60 million over six months to help combat the violence.
Rio’s police often respond brutally to drug gangs, wounding and killing innocent residents as a result of tactics that have been consistently condemned by human rights groups.
The police last year killed more than 1,100 suspects described as “resisting arrest.” Residents killed in police raids are routinely labeled as suspected criminals, without investigations to back up the charge.
Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier; writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Raymond Colitt and Jackie Frank