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article imageCop killed in flare up of violence in Rio de Janeiro

By AFP     Jul 17, 2017 in World

A spasm of violence in Rio claimed another life Monday as a policeman was shot dead, a day after a gun battle sparked panic on the road to the airport and prompted some drivers to seek shelter in the trunks of their cars.

Rio de Janeiro police said officers were fired on during the morning shift change in a favela, or shanty town, called Mangueira, close to the iconic Maracana soccer stadium.

"The police officers were attacked at around 8:00 am (1100 GMT). Bruno Dos Santos Leonardo, 29, was hit in the head. He was married and had a young daughter," the police said in a statement.

Another officer was wounded in the leg during the shooting. The two men were part of the so-called pacification police (UPP), a force created in recent years specifically to patrol the previously lawless favelas.

The assault was blamed on drug traffickers. Elite paramilitary police units were quickly deployed to the scene as reinforcements and to hunt for the attackers.

Among them were officers from the BOPE, Brazil's equivalent of SWAT teams whose emblem is a skull and two crossed pistols. Gunfire could be heard later in the morning, an AFP photographer in the area said.

So far this year, 88 police officers have been killed in Rio, 10 more than at the same point of last year, the news website G1 said.

Shootings have been on the rise in recent weeks in this city that just last year hosted the summer Olympic Games.

On average, three people have been killed by stray bullets every day in the first six months of the year.

On Sunday evening, the main road leading to the city's international airport was blocked by gunmen stopping cars and trying to rob people.

Police intervened and a gun battle ensued, triggering panic on a very busy highway that runs through the city's northern suburbs and the downtown area.

Video on social media shows motorists ducking down beside their cars for shelter. Witnesses quoted by Brazilian media said some people jumped into the trunks of their cars.

Others ran away to a nearby police station.

There were no reports of injuries.

The rise in violence has been accentuated by the city's financial woes. Rio is on the verge of bankruptcy and cannot pay its employees on time, including the police.

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