World Bulletin / News Desk
Thousands of Brazilian army troops raided Rio de Janeiro slums in a pre-dawn crackdown on crime gangs Saturday, leaving parts of the city looking like a war zone on the first anniversary of the opening of the Olympic Games.
Their main goal was to stop gangs behind a surge in brazen robberies of commercial trucks, with arrest warrants issued for 40 people. However, the unusually aggressive operation also follows wider concerns that nearly bankrupt post-Olympic Rio is spinning out of control.
Dozens of soldiers in camouflage set up a checkpoint at Lins favela, one of the many little-regulated, and often gang-plagued communities of working class Brazilians that rise up on the city's forest-clad hills. The troops stood with fingers on the triggers of assault rifles and an armored personnel carrier and two jeeps blocked the road.
Everyone exiting the favela was subjected to an identity check and search. One man was questioned at length about a scar on his stomach and another man's bag was searched only to find he was carrying a large Bible.
Favela residents said they had woken to shooting when the troops moved in and that the operation made them feel no safer.
"There's an atmosphere of tension and fear," said Vanuza Barroso da Silva, 23, who was going to her job at a supermarket. "People can hardly get to work."
"They treat us as if we're trash," her father Roberto, 46, said angrily of the security forces.
Officials said the other favelas targeted were Camarista Meier, Morros de Sao Joao and Engenho Novo in the north and Covanca in the west.
"The armed forces are responsible for the perimeters in some of these regions and based at strategic points," the state security service said. "Some roads are blocked and the airspace is restricted to civilian flights over the sectors where the armed forces are operating."
Rio's airports, however, were not affected.
The big crackdown on Rio's heavily armed criminal gangs came exactly a year after President Michel Temer opened the Olympics in a ceremony at the Maracana football stadium, which is close to Lins favela.
Rio was the first South American city to host the Games and although the event passed off smoothly, a mixture of corruption scandals, near collapse in the budget and crime has combined into a serious hangover for what should be one of Brazil's richest regions.
The crackdown follows the Brazilian government's deployment last month of thousands of federal troops and police reinforcements to the city.
In the first half of this year Rio tallied 3,457 homicides, the highest level of violence since 2009 and 15 percent more than during the same period in 2016.
People are killed daily in shootouts between rival gangs competing for control of the favelas or from police action. The shootings, involving high-powered rifles, also lead to numerous deaths and injuries from stray bullets.
Since the beginning of the year 93 police officers have also been killed in Rio state.
The state recorded some 10,000 cases of cargo theft last year, primarily on access roads to the city of 6.5 million resident, causing heavy financial losses.
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Temer came to the city to meet Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao, several ministers and General Walter Souza Braga Netto, who will lead the operation and who was in charge of coordinating security when the city hosted the 2016 Olympic Games.
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