Gun battle between gang members and police kills 12 in Rio de Janeiro

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two policemen were killed after gang members shot down their helicopter during a battle with police in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Twelve people were killed on the ground, including two civilians. Ten of those are said to have been gang members.

According to military police commander Mario Sergio Duarte, the pilot was shot in the leg by a gang member from the ground. The pilot then attempted an emergency landing, but lost control crashing into a football field, setting the helicopter ablaze. The pilot and one other policemen were able to escape the wreckage with minor injuries.

Officials say the fighting started on Saturday when a gang from the Morro do São João Favela attempted to invade and seize control of the neighboring favela Morro dos Macacos. The Comando Vermelho gang attempted to take the neighboring favela, a territory operated by the Amigo dos Amigos gang when police intervened.

At least 100 police officers and Special Police Operations Battalion troops continued the gunfight with the alleged gang members on the ground after the helicopter crashed. The alleged gang members then set as many as nine buses ablaze in response to police intrusion. Fabio Nascimento, a bus driver who had his bus set on fire, said to Agence France-Presse that as many as 15 armed masked men forced him and the passengers to leave the bus, yelling at them to "get out, get out, we are going to light it on fire!"

Officials say that Saturday's battle was the worst in Rio since the city was named the host city of the 2016 Olympic Games two weeks ago. In Rio, an estimated 6,000 people were killed in 2008 due to gang-related violence. At least one person was arrested in connection with Saturday's violence.

In an effort to help curb the gang violence in Rio, the Justice Ministry made an offer to Sérgio Cabral, Governor of Rio, to send national guard troops to the city, but the governor denied the request. Cabral said that the city is properly equipped to handle the violence.