Shootouts between Brazil police and drug gangs leave at least 20 dead

Mourners fled from gunfire at a cemetery and families ran for cover on the streets, as shootouts between rival drug gangs and police killed at least 20 in Rio de Janeiro, officials said.

At least 14 alleged drug gang members were killed Tuesday in an hours-long gunbattle in the Mineira shantytown near downtown Rio, said a police spokeswoman who declined to be identified according to department policy.

It was not immediately clear how many of the victims were killed by gangs and how many by police, she said.

In a second, apparently unrelated battle, police killed six alleged gang members in a west-side slum.

"The situation is under control now. We did what we had to do," state police Col. Samuel Dionisio said in a televised interview. "It was a relatively happy action for the police because we managed to avoid something more serious."

The shooting at Mineira began early Tuesday when rival gangs tried to seize control of lucrative drug-dealing spots, police said.

Police surrounded the shantytown in an attempt to quell the fighting, which spilled over into the Catumbi neighborhood and forced a major north-south tunnel to be shut down. The shooting lasted until about 11:00 a.m. (1400 GMT) and snarled traffic citywide.

Three bystanders were shot, including one who was wounded in the head while sitting in a bus. But Brazilian media said his life was not in danger; the condition of the other two was not immediately known.

Television news showed families fleeing as officers fired assault rifles into the hills, and a desperate mother and her young daughter seeking cover in a bus stop as shots flew overhead.

Shooting also erupted in a cemetery and led four burials to be canceled, local media reported.

Police arrested eight people and seized several weapons including a hand grenade, Dionisio said.

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most violent cities in the world, with an annual homicide rate of about 50 per 100,000 residents.

Most of the killings have occurred in the city's more than 600 shantytowns, which are controlled primarily by heavily armed gangs.

On Monday, federal officials met with Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral to discuss deploying the army to fight violence in the city, which is to host the Pan American Games in July.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova