Image: Police in Rio aim their guns
Eduardo Naddar  /  AP
Police take positions during an operation in search of drugs, traffickers and weapons in the Vila Cruzeiro slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday.
updated 10/21/2009 8:52:36 PM ET 2009-10-22T00:52:36

Police in Rio expanded a crackdown on gangs beyond the area hit by a wave of killings that has claimed at least 32 lives since the weekend, officials said Wednesday.

The clashes came less than three weeks after the city was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games. They began when a drug gang tried to invade a rival's territory and three policemen were killed when a helicopter was shot down by gunfire over the weekend.

Subsequent firefights between police and heavily armed gang members have left the affected slums in chaos. Hundreds of residents fled their homes overnight, choosing to sleep in streets away from their own neighborhoods after rumors spread that drug gangs were set to battle again.

While the violence began in a northern area near the Maracana stadium, which will host the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies, police searching for suspects behind the downing of the helicopter launched operations in slums in Rio's south and center on Wednesday.

A police spokesman said officers killed three suspected drug traffickers during the afternoon raids, raising the death toll to 32. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. In the early morning, officers shot dead three other suspects in northern areas of the city.

"We can't allow four or five criminals to cause this madness," Rio state Public Safety Director Jose Beltrame said about the drug chiefs his officers were hunting down. "Many people are suffering and feeling the pressure of this violence."

By evening, most of the areas were calm, but more police operations were expected during the night.

The International Olympic Committee awarded Rio the 2016 games on Oct. 2.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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