Brazil army deploys in Rio slum as drug-related violence worsens

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Brazilian soldiers poured into Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha slum on Friday in a bid to help the cash-strapped state government quell the drug-related violence that authorities blamed for at least four deaths and several injuries there last week.

The army deployed 950 troops in the sprawling favela, responding to a request from the Rio state government, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told local television.

In the past two weeks, 60 criminals are believed to have launched an effort to dominate the drug trade in the area, not far from some of the city's most expensive real estate, and shootings were reported there on Friday morning, according to local media.

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Army deployed to Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha slum
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Army deployed to Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha slum
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 25: A girl walks past Brazilian soldiers standing on patrol in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 25, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela on September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. Rio has suffered an uptick in violence following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 25: A Brazilian soldier stands on patrol as a woman passes carrying a child in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 25, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela on September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. Rio has suffered an uptick in violence following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Brazilian marines stand guard in Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Brazilian marines stand guard in Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 25: A girl steps into a doorway beneath stairs as Brazilian soldiers stand on patrol in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 25, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela on September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. Rio has suffered an uptick in violence following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 25: Brazilian soldiers stand on patrol in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 25, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela on September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. Rio has suffered an uptick in violence following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Employing urban combat tactics, Brazilian army military police personnel patrol along an alley in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Brazilian army military police personnel check the ID of a bypasser during a combat patrol along an alley in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Employing urban combat tactics, Brazilian army military police personnel patrol along an alley in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 25: A woman crosses a bridge in front of the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 25, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela on September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. Rio has suffered an uptick in violence following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Employing urban combat tactics, Brazilian army military police personnel patrol along an alley in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Employing urban combat tactics, Brazilian army military police personnel patrol along an alley in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Employing urban combat tactics, Brazilian army military police personnel patrol along an alley in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
Brazil's Forca Nacional BEPE fast-reaction troops personnel frisk and check bypassrs' IDs in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 25, 2017. Security officials said the giant Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro was back under control Saturday after hundreds of soldiers and police were sent to battle heavily armed drug traffickers. / AFP PHOTO / Mauro PIMENTEL (Photo credit should read MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Soldiers patrol the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 25, 2017. On September 22, 950 soldiers were deployed to reinforce police at Rocinha and brought fighting between rival gangs under control. Intense exchanges of gunfire between police and criminals began early morning inside the Rocinha favela, where approximately 70,000 people live in a teeming cluster of small houses on hillsides overlooking wealthy western Rio. / AFP PHOTO / Carl DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
A militarized police officer holds his gun in an alley way at Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 25, 2017. On September 22, 950 soldiers were deployed to reinforce police at Rocinha and brought fighting between rival gangs under control. Intense exchanges of gunfire between police and criminals began early morning inside the Rocinha favela, where approximately 70,000 people live in a teeming cluster of small houses on hillsides overlooking wealthy western Rio. / AFP PHOTO / Carl DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
A mother lifts her child near a soldier in Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 25, 2017. On September 22, 950 soldiers were deployed to reinforce police at Rocinha and brought fighting between rival gangs under control. Intense exchanges of gunfire between police and criminals began early morning inside the Rocinha favela, where approximately 70,000 people live in a teeming cluster of small houses on hillsides overlooking wealthy western Rio. / AFP PHOTO / Carl DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 24: A Brazilian soldier patrols in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 24, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. Rio has suffered an uptick in violence following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 24: A Brazilian soldier keeps watch as young men (L) wait to be searched in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 24, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, one of the largest in Latin America. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 24: A woman watches from a window as Brazilian soldiers stand on patrol in the Rocinha 'favela' community on September 24, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Brazilian Army and other armed forces entered the favela September 22 in an ongoing operation following firefights involving drug gangs in the favela, which is one of the largest in Latin America. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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The violence in Rocinha is one more sign of the backsliding since the launch of a "pacification" program in 2008 to reduce violence by pushing out drug gangs and setting up permanent outposts in the city's more than 1,000 favelas.

Police struggled to maintain security gains in favelas in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio and have continued to lose ground as a fiscal crisis in the city and state lead to cutbacks in spending on police and other essential services.

The military operation in Rocinha on Friday disrupted transportation and businesses in the area, with some schools closing or paring back operations.

"I was going to work and suddenly the police closed off the tunnel in Rocinha and started to patrol with guns. There was a panic at the mouth of the tunnel and I saw people running and heard gunfire," one witness told Reuters, requesting anonymity.

"I'm still shaking now."

The outbreak of violence is happening in the midst of the Rock in Rio music festival at the far south end of the city, which has drawn thousands of people with musical acts including Fergie and Aerosmith.

Broadcaster GloboNews on Friday showed relatively calm scenes of matte green military trucks filing down roads into the favela, including soldiers riding on trucks and motorcycles holding assault rifles.

There are up to 10,000 troops in Rio de Janeiro who could be mobilized if needed, the defense ministry said.

"We're not going to back off in Rocinha," the governor of Rio state Luiz Fernando Pezao told journalists.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Jake Spring, editing by Tom Brown)

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