Rio police corral drug gang inside slum

RIO DE JANEIRO — Hundreds of police and soldiers surrounded one of Rio's most dangerous slums after the end of a sunset deadline offered to drug gang members holed up inside, though officials late Saturday did not indicate when they might invade.

A police spokesman emphasized to reporters the superior night-fighting capabilities of the troops and officers. A police battalion commander, however, said there was "zero" chance of a nighttime assault to take on the estimated 600 gang members.

In a week of widespread violence blamed on the drug gangs, authorities on Thursday took control of one slum once thought virtually impenetrable. More than 200 armed gang members fled that offensive and ran to the nearby Alemao complex of a dozen slums that are home to at least 85,000 people, followed by security forces on Friday.

Hundreds of police and soldiers manned positions outside Alemao, sheltering behind armored vehicles and exchanging intermittent, heavy gunfire with the gang members at many of the 44 entrances to the slum, its shacks packed along steep hills.

Many residents of Alemao could be seen streaming down the narrow alleyways Saturday carrying their belongings — chairs, washing machines, bags of clothing — hoping to avoid being caught in the crossfire of the looming invasion.

Police spokesman Henrique Lima Castro Saraiva said during the afternoon that the deadline for the gang members to surrender was "when the sun sets."

"We want them to turn themselves in peacefully," he said. "We do not want a bloodbath, but if they call us to war we will respond with force."

Saraiva said the gunmen would be no match for security forces in a pitched battle, saying they were "exhausted, hungry, thirsty, stressed out" and had not been able to bring in more ammunition.

He also said the soldiers and police were trained and equipped to fight at night. "We have superior manpower and firepower, and nighttime favors us not them," he said.

"The probability of that being done is zero," commander Waldir Pires told reporters outside the slum when asked about a big night invasion.

He did not rule out, however, smaller nighttime incursions into the slum, and the Globo television network reported that at least one armored vehicle was inside the slum soon after night fell.