Rio De Janeiro: Brazil claimed victory on day in its crackdown on the slums of Rio de Janeiro after an unprecedented military operation to drive out drug traffickers and secure the notorious favelas.
Some 2,600 paratroopers, marines and elite police backed up by helicopters and armored personnel carriers led a pre-dawn assault on the traffickers` bastion of Grota, a lawless city within a city with a population of 400,000.
Grota is just one of 15 favelas that make up the Complexo do Alemao, a sprawling maze of slums in northern Rio. And there was no mention of the arrests of hundreds of traffickers claimed to be the target of the operations.
"This conquest is a decisive step forward for our public safety policy," Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral told TV Globo. "Today, we are turning a page in Rio`s history."
Yet despite shouts of victory and the soaring rhetoric of senior officials, it remains to be seen whether the city, which is preparing to host the 2016 Olympics and matches in the 2014 soccer World Cup, has indeed been made safer.
"This is our D-Day," military police spokesman Colonel Lima Castro told reporters, referring to the historic allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. "We will return this community to the people of Rio de Janeiro."
A third of Rio`s six million population live in slums perched on its steep hillsides. Most favelas are no-go areas for the rest of the city`s residents, who fear the gangs and criminals.
The Complexo do Alemao is the home turf of the Red Command organized crime group and on Thursday police said they had squared off and exchanged fire with an estimated 500 to 600 drug traffickers.
Sunday`s fighting in Garota`s narrow alleyways and twisting dead-end streets capped almost a week of a strikes intended at making Rio -- a perennial poster child of crime -- a safer place.
Compared to Thursday, the authorities said resistance on Sunday was far weaker as security forces slowly tightened their grip with sharpshooters posted on high buildings and soldiers encircling the slum.
"We did not have that hard of a time because police choppers were overhead backing us up with firepower," police commander Mario Sergio Duarte said.
House to house searches were carried out in Grota, where soldiers and police were combing the area searching for anyone injured in the crack down -- which has killed 35 people over six days -- and for weapons and drugs.
Trouble with the slums and organized crime is nothing new in Rio, but there is a new sense of urgency since Brazil has emerged as a global economic and political player.
The seaside city will also soon be very much in the world spotlight as it plays host to matches in the 2014 World Cup and then the 2016 Olympics.
"We will do whatever it takes so that the good guys defeat those who prefer to live lives of crime," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said earlier in the week.
Authorities poured into Grota at 1000 GMT and by 1530 GMT military police said they had gained control of the strategically important slum, and by extension the whole of the Complexo do Alemao.
They placed Brazilian and civilian police flags over the territory as a sign of their authority -- but made no claims to have apprehended the hundreds of drug traffickers they claimed to be hunting.
"We took over all the points we had to get. All of them were taken by our battalions," Duarte said, adding that troops had "brought freedom" to locals.
Residents waved signs reading "Peace," and hung white kerchiefs out of their windows. Others waited well away from the action until they could get home safely after running morning errands or returning from church.
"We all wanted the (military-police) `invasion,` we just cannot take it any more," said Thiago, an 18-year-old who was worried about getting home to see if his mother and sister were safe.