Bodies found, chopper crash probed after clashes in tense Rio slum

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By Paulo Prada and Ricardo Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Tensions in Rio de Janeiro mounted on Sunday as residents of a well-known slum recovered at least seven bodies of suspects they believe were killed by police in clashes that culminated late Saturday with the crash of a police helicopter.

After a full day of firefights around City of God, a sprawling slum with a history of lethal clashes between police and suspected criminals, residents spoke of a "massacre" and pulled bodies from woods that those killed are believed to have used as cover during shootouts.

It remains unclear whether more corpses will be found and under what circumstances those already recovered died. Some residents, including one father who told reporters his son had been "executed" and lay face down to illustrate how.

A spokesman for Rio police said that the deaths are still being investigated and declined to comment on how they may have occurred.

PHOTOS: A look at the violence in Rio

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Conflict in Rio de Janeiro
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY Residents react near bodies of whom police say are drug traffickers, during a police operation in the Cidade de Deus favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil November 20, 2016. REUTERS / Ricardo MoraesTEMPLATE OUT
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY Residents react near bodies of whom police say are drug traffickers, during a police operation in the Cidade de Deus favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TEMPLATE OUT
Residents observe as policemen carry out an operation against drug dealers in Cidade de Deus or City of God slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Policemen take position during an operation against drug dealers in Cidade de Deus or City of God slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY Residents react near bodies of whom police say are drug traffickers, during a police operation in the Cidade de Deus favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TEMPLATE OUT
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH AND INJURY A woman reacts near bodies of whom police say are drug traffickers, during a police operation in the Cidade de Deus favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes TEMPLATE OUT
A policeman runs during an operation against drug dealers in Cidade de Deus or City of God slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
A woman looks at a burned bus near a protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
A civil servant (in blue) greets a police officer during a protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in front of the State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
A policeman checks a vehicle during an operation against drug dealers in Cidade de Deus or City of God slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Riot police take position as residents take pictures during a protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in front of the State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Civil servants protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in front of the State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
A injured civil servant is helped during a protest against the Rio de Janeiro state government and a plan that will limit public spending in front of the State Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
A screen shot taken from a video shows police officers investigating the crashed police helicopter that killed four officers during their operation against drug dealers at Cidade de Deus favela (community) in Rio de Janeiro on November 19, 2016. / AFP / Tony Barros (Photo credit should read TONY BARROS/AFP/Getty Images)
People gather in the place where remain the seven bodies of victims of a police operation against drug dealers occurred on November 19, at Cidade de Deus favela (community) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 20, 2016. Rio, which is home to 6.5 million people and drastic social inequality, suffers from high levels of criminality, made worse by heavily armed gangs of narcotraffickers, but also by the presence of paramilitary militias. / AFP / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members mourn victims of a police operation against drug dealers that occurred on November 19 at Cidade de Deus favela (community) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 20, 2016. Rio, which is home to 6.5 million people and drastic social inequality, suffers from high levels of criminality, made worse by heavily armed gangs of narcotraffickers, but also by the presence of paramilitary militias. / AFP / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Aviation authorities, meanwhile, were investigating the site of Saturday's helicopter crash and the wreckage to determine whether it was downed by gunfire or failed due to some other cause. Four police died in the crash and another officer was killed during Saturday's fighting.

Roberto Sa, Rio's state security secretary, said on Sunday that none of the police who died in the crash had bullet wounds and that no evidence exists so far to prove that gunfire caused the helicopter to crash. He warned, however, that investigators need more time to determine any cause for sure.

"It's too early for any conclusion," he said.

The weekend clashes come amid a rebound in violent crime in Rio and elsewhere in Brazil. An economic recession and rising unemployment are causing many once-violent areas that had improved during a now-fizzled economic boom to backslide. Making matters worse, security forces are being hindered in their ability to respond due to a lack of funding.

In Rio, Brazil's second-biggest and best-known city, the tenuous improvements in security enabled it to successfully host soccer's 2014 World Cup and more recently the 2016 Olympics, much of it in venues near City of God, a community whose violent past was featured in a blockbuster movie in 2002.

But with security budgets slashed and economic woes hitting poor neighborhoods the hardest, many residents fear a return of routine violence by criminals and the sort of well-documented human rights abuses by police that local authorities, despite improvements in recent decades, say still remain a challenge. (Reporting by Paulo Prada and Ricardo Moraes; Editing by Alan Crosby)


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