Seventeen children wounded in Rio de Janeiro crossfire

RIO DE JANEIRO - At least 17 children have been wounded after drug traffickers opened fire on police near a school in a Rio de Janeiro shantytown, Brazilian authorities have said.

The children were in a classroom at the Professor Henrique Foreis public school in the Fazendinha favela.

Teachers told them to lie down on the floor but some started running away in panic when the shooting started, witnesses said.

"They were desperate. Everyone wanted to hide," one student said.

Police said the gunmen shot at officers who had stopped a motorcyclist during an operation to recover stolen vehicles. A state security official said the police had not fired back at the gunmen.

Eight children were taken to a hospital, including five who were hit by stray bullets and had surgery. Nine more children were hurt by splinters and flying debris.

Violence is widespread in this city of six million people, with many of its slums controlled by drug gangs who frequently battle police and one another.

About 980 people designated as "suspected criminals" and more than 50 policemen were killed in clashes in 2004, according to official figures.

Human rights groups suspect many of the criminal deaths were summary executions by security forces.

- REUTERS

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