Rio police set to occupy slum near airport

Rio police on Friday prepared to occupy slums near the city's international airport and seaport as part of efforts to drive out drug traffickers ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

Officials said 1,100 police backed by 200 navy commandos in armored vehicles were poised to punch into the Caju complex -- a shantytown home to some 20,000 people near Rio's port -- at dawn Saturday.

Police said their next target would be violence-plagued Mare, an area near the airport largely controlled by drug gangs and a para-police militia.

The area, home to 75,000 people, is ringed by freeways, including one that provides access to Galeao international airport.

Rio's feared military police battalion BOPE are to occupy the zone until a specially-trained police force known as UPP can be deployed.

In 2008, Rio authorities moved to reassert control in lawless favelas, or slums, ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio summer Olympics.

So far, 30 UPPs (Police Pacification Units) with more than 8,000 officers have been deployed and are protecting more than half of the two million people who live in local slums.

Authorities said their goal is to have 40 UPPs in place by 2014.

Violence has receded since police launched operations in the slums, including in Rocinha, Brazil's largest shantytown.

In the first half of 2012 the murder rate fell to 10.9 per 100,000 residents, far lower than the national average of 26 per 100,000.

In 2009, the murder rate in Rio was 36.2 per 100,000 inhabitants.