Brazil police probe hotel hostage drama
Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian authorities probed on Sunday the brazen hostage-taking of 35 people at an upscale central Rio de Janeiro hotel following a shootout between a gang and police that left one person dead.
The incident dramatised the security challenges faced by the host of the 2016 Olympic Games.
The hostages were released unharmed after police cornered the gunmen inside the hotel kitchen.
But a woman was killed and seven people, including four police officers, were wounded by gunfire as the violence spilled from the streets of Rio into the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. Nine suspects were arrested, police said.
"Unfortunately in Rio we have drug traffickers with barbaric tendencies, and when they run into the police these things happen," said Jose Mariano Beltrame, head of Public Safety for the state of Rio de Janeiro.
The incident began when officers on patrol early Saturday ran into "criminals" in vehicles and motorcycles heading toward Rocinha, the city's most populous 'favela,' or shanty town, police spokesman Colonel Lima Castro told CBN radio.
"There was a shootout, and two police officers were slightly wounded," Castro said.
Amateur images of the incident taken from nearby buildings and broadcast on local TV showed scores of people running down the street screaming, some fleeing and others waving their weapons and firing.
A woman was killed in the hail of bullets. Witnesses said she was struck by a stray bullet, but police later said she was a gang member.
TV images showed the woman's lifeless body covered with a black cloth on the ground outside the hotel.
Some of the gunmen fled the scene, but witnesses said about 20 others ran into the Intercontinental Hotel, where police said they took 35 people hostage, including guests and hotel workers.
Brandishing weapons, the bandits took over the reception desk and then fled to the kitchen, hotel manager Michel Chertouh said.
There were some 1,550 people in the hotel at the time, including guests and workers, he told Globonews TV. About 40 percent of the guests were foreigners and none were injured, Chertouh said.
After holding their hostages a few hours, the gunmen surrendered without putting up resistance, seeing that they had no other way out, Castro said.
Police said they confiscated vehicles, motorcycles, a hand grenade and at least eight automatic weapons.
Police surrounded the hotel, located in the southern part of the city in front of Sao Conrado beach, and police helicopters hovered above searching for missing gang members.
For the past two years authorities have been cracking down on crime in a "pacification" program in several city favelas, including Rocinha. They say the crackdown has lowered the rates of violence in the city.
"We have a new Rio that has to live alongside the old Rio" until authorities complete the security plan, Beltrame told a press conference.
"People who believe that they are going to solve this problem in the short term are mistaken," he said. "In Rio we have to put an end to these territories that are controlled with weapons of war."
Police are under pressure to impose order as Rio de Janeiro will be one of the cities hosting football's 2014 World Cup, as well as the 2016 summer Olympics.