19 dead in gang attacks in Rio

From the Associated Press

Drug gangs set fire to buses and attacked police with machine guns and hand grenades here Thursday, leaving 19 people dead and 21 wounded, the state's top law enforcement officer said.

The fatalities included seven people in one of the six burned buses and three policemen, said Roberto Precioso, head of the public safety department for the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro.

Two other civilians died, including a street vendor caught in the crossfire in the city of Rio de Janeiro's Botafogo district, and seven alleged gang members were killed, Precioso said. Fourteen civilians and seven police officers were injured.

Precioso said gang members used handguns, machine guns and grenades in 12 attacks on police stations and posts around the city.

Rio state's governor said the gangs intended the attacks to be even bloodier. "The idea was to kill hundreds of police and dozens of innocent people," Gov. Rosinha Matheus told reporters.

Cesar Maia, the mayor of the city of Rio, said the drug gangs appeared to be retaliating against militias -- reportedly run by off-duty police officers -- that in recent months have been battling them in slums and charging residents for protection.

Precioso said early action by police prevented the violence from reaching levels seen in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, in May, when similar attacks killed more than 150 people, including about 40 police officers.

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