Heavily armed police cracking down on gangs ahead of Rio's famed carnival celebrations engaged in shootouts in two slums Wednesday, killing at least seven suspects.
The seven were shot dead while resisting officers in the Jacarezinho and Mangueira slums, said police inspector Rodrigo Oliveira. Brazilian media reported that nine suspects were killed, but Oliveira said he could not confirm the higher figure.
The shootouts happened just three days before carnival celebrations in Rio start getting into high gear. Violence in Rio, one of the world's most crime-ridden cities, often breaks out just before the festivities but usually evaporates after carnival begins.
After the shootouts, police armored cars rumbled down the streets of the Jacarezinho shantytown on Rio's poor north side, far from the city's beach districts. A police anti-drug raid in another Rio shantytown left four dead earlier this month.
The victims in Wednesday's violence, said Oliveira, "were all bandits, all actively resisting" the raid on gangs that steal cars and motorcycles. Police seized 30 motorcycles, four cars and an undetermined quantity of drugs.
A record 1,260 civilians died in clashes with police in Rio de Janeiro state last year, according to a report released this month by the Rio de Janeiro State Institute of Public Safety. Most killings occurred during "acts of resistance" — police jargon for armed confrontations with civilians.
The tally only includes figures reported by police stations that have computers — omitting about one-third of precincts from the total.
While officials have promised that increased security will keep carnival celebrations peaceful, Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral fired the city's police chief and nine top commanders late Tuesday after officers mounted a protest on Ipanema beach to complain about low salaries.
Public security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame characterized the protest as insubordination. O Globo reported that 40 high-ranking officers sent a letter to Cabral demanding the reinstatement of Police Chief Ubiritan Angelo, and that 30 on Wednesday threatened to quit the force.
Beltrame said any commanders who leave the force will simply be replaced, the Agencia Estado news service reported.