In Rio de Janeiro, police say they have taken back a slum area from the drug gangs in a five-day assault which has left at least 30 people dead. The operation is part of a clean-up in the city’s slums ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Military tanks driving through the streets of Rio’s Vila Cruzeiro yesterday signalling that the area had been reclaimed from the drug gangs, said authorities.

“At this moment, Vila Cruzeiro belongs to the state,” police spokesman Rodrigo Oliveira said.

Five days of violence saw six M113 armoured personnel carriers armed with .50-calibre machineguns battling the gangs, who fought back by spraying police with machinegun fire and setting light buses.

The assault is part of a police campaign to sort out Rio’s drug gang-ridden slums before the city hosts the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.

Rio drug gangs have long had control of parts the city’s slums. Police said that gangs had joined forces seeking to disrupt a two-year-old pacification program aimed at taking the areas back from the dealers.

On Thursday, police arrived in Vila Cruzeiro under the cover of police helicopters as gangs responded with gunfire and by setting light to vehicles.

Locale residents were shocked at the violence of the operation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this! It’s a real war operation,” Elias, a 44-year-old school principal told Sky News.

“But it is necessary. This is the only way to confront the drug traffickers.”

However, others were critical of the police’ heavy-handed approach.

Marcelo Freixo, a Rio state deputy and long-time critic of local police tactics, said the operation was misguided.

“The police can enter Vila Cruzeiro and kill another hundred, but that won’t solve the problem in Rio de Janeiro,” he said. “The finger that pulls the trigger is not the same as the one that counts the money from arms smuggling.”

Brazilian soccer
authorities have promised that the 2014 World Cup will take
place in a “climate of normality” despite this week’s violence
between police and drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro.

Organisers of the 2016 Olympic Games in the city also
expressed their faith in security measures.