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

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

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)