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Reputed drug lord nabbed while fleeing from Rio slum

- Associated Press - Thursday, November 10, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO The reputed drug gang leader in this Olympic city was arrested Thursday, police said.

The capture is a blow to the gang that controls one of Latin America's biggest slums and the main drug distribution point in Rio.

Antonio Bonfim Lopes, known as "Nem," tried to flee the Rocinha slum in the trunk of a car that was stopped at a police checkpoint just outside the shantytown, said Victor Poubel, a federal police inspector.

He said the occupants of the car tried to bribe police twice, but eventually opened the trunk. Mr. Lopes did not resist arrest and calmly stared at TV cameras when taken into a police station.

Police said Mr. Lopes is wanted on charges of drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and money laundering, and his arrest is a blow to the "Friends of Friends" drug gang that controls Rocinha.

It comes as police say they are preparing for a raid of the slum as part of a campaign to make the city safer by the time it hosts the 2014 World Cup final matches and the 2016 Olympics.

Police are pressing ahead with plans to take back the shantytown, and hope for help from the residents, said Alberto Pinheiro Neto, head of operations for Rio state police, at a press conference Thursday.

About 100,000 people are estimated to live in Rocinha. Mr. Pinheiro Neto would not give a specific timeline for the raid into the slum, saying the operation is ongoing, but guaranteed police would try to minimize harm to residents.

Police would distribute prepaid cellphones to residents to encourage collaboration with officers, he said.

"The gang is being dismantled, and this is a good moment for law-abiding citizens who want to see their children living in peace to pass information on where criminals, guns and drugs are hidden," he said.

Under the pacification program, elite police units enter slums and push out the heavily armed drug gangs that have held sway for decades.

Once security is established, officers trained in community policing move in and set up permanent "police pacification units."

City officials also bring in basic services that many of the shantytowns had never received, such as sewage, legal electricity and cable hookups, and trash collection.

Police have created 18 such outposts in slums, mostly in areas seen as geographically key to World Cup and Olympic venues or along a highway leading to the international airport.

Rocinha sprawls across on a mountainside that hugs a road connecting what will be the main Olympic venues to wealthier parts of Rio, including the neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema.

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