RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro’s drug war hit a bloody crescendo on Monday when at least 11 suspected criminals and two soldiers were reported killed in a huge military sweep through impoverished favelas and during a rush-hour police car chase.
The military command heading security in Brazil’s second biggest city said the two troops killed were the first lost since conservative President Michel Temer sent them into protect Rio.
The military command said 4,200 soldiers, backed by armored vehicles and aircraft, entered the Penha neighbourhood and the Alemao and Mare favela complexes -- poor, densely populated swaths of city in large part run by heavily armed drug traffickers.
Only 70 police officers were said to be involved, suggesting a turnaround from previous operations into the dangerous favelas where police have taken the lead and soldiers provided backup.
According to the Rio police force, 430kg of drugs were seized in the Mare, a far bigger amount than usual in such operations, which often end with few concrete results.
Troops removed roadblocks erected by drug gangs, followed up on tipoffs against suspected traffickers, and checked vehicles and residents, the military said in a statement.
In addition, "troops distributed leaflets asking for co-operation from the population," it said.
The military said the incursion brought "positive effects" to some 550,000 residents.
However, human rights activists worried that the deaths and the overwhelming role of soldiers, as opposed to police, signaled a concerning development in Rio’s unending crime wars.
In a separate incident in the Rio suburb of Niteroi, six suspected armed criminals were shot dead by police after a rush-hour car chase that briefly caused traffic snarls near one of Rio’s main bridges.
Police said in a statement that "four died on the spot and two died in hospital, and three were taken prisoner." Four assault rifles, four pistols, four grenades and seven radios were seized from two cars, police said.
A commuter bus carrying 38 people was caught in the crossfire during the shootout and hit by 14 bullets, although just one passenger was slightly injured, Globo news site reported.
Rio de Janeiro hosted the Olympics two years ago, winning widespread praise for a smoothly run games. — AFP