Rio asks for federal troops after gangs attack police in slums

RIO DE JANEIRO - Rio de Janeiro's state governor called for the dispatch of federal troops on Friday to help quell a surge in violent crime following attacks by drug traffickers on police posts in three slums on the north side of the city.

Less than three months before Rio welcomes tens of thousands of foreign football fans for the World Cup, the attacks cast new doubts on government efforts to expel gangs from slums using a strong police presence. The city will host the Olympics in 2016.

Governor Sérgio Cabral will meet president Dilma Rousseff on Friday morning to ask for federal troops to be deployed to help stop the attacks on police units overseeing slums across Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second largest city.

Shooting broke on Thursday night between drug traffickers and police in a slum near the Manguinhos complex of shantytowns. Three policemen were shot and wounded, including the Manguinhos police chief, local media reported. The attackers set fire to and destroyed the local police post housed in a cargo container.

The gangs, made up mainly of drug traffickers, knocked down power lines during the attack, leaving Manguinhos in the dark. "We are dealing with the problem, but at this moment we need the support of federal forces to ensure a strong response," Cabral told reporters after a meeting with security officials.

Violence is on the rise again in the slums ringing Rio that were "pacified" in recent years by police occupations as drug traffickers seek to reconquer their lost territory.

The backlash to the police operations in Rio has heightened concerns about security and law and order during the World Cup and the Olympics, global events that political leaders had hoped would showcase the emergence of a modern Brazil.

An estimated 600,000 foreign football fans will arrive in Brazil for the World Cup in June. Seven games will be played in Rio, including the tournament's July 13 final, in the legendary Maracaná stadium located a few miles from the Manguinhos slums.

The use of excess force by the police has angered residents and led to criticism from international human right groups of alleged abuses.

Brazilians were shocked this week by images of a woman who was shot and then dragged along the street by a police car when her body fell out of the trunk following a shootout in a slum.

To date, 36 Rio slum areas have been pacified with more than 9,000 police patrolling neighborhoods where 1.5 million people live. Initial success in evicting the gangs was applauded, but the police operations have been criticised for merely displacing crime to other slums.