By Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 5 (Reuters) - The Brazilian Armed Forces occupied a massive compound of slums north of Rio de Janeiro early on Saturday without firing a shot, securing a focal point of violent crime two months ahead of the soccer World Cup.
Wresting control of the area from drug gangs was a priority for authorities because it surrounds the expressway to the Galeão International Airport where tens of thousands of fans will land in June for the World Cup. Rio de Janeiro state authorities requested the occupation after a spree of attacks against police in the area.
About 2,050 army troops and 450 marines in armored cars and helicopters took over the so-called Complexo da Maré, reinforcing police presence where 130,000 people live in 15 shantytowns, Major Alberto Horita said. The troops plan to remain there until July 31, a little more than two weeks after the end of the World Cup.
"We are monitoring the area closely and patrolling will be constant," Horita told reporters.
The move follows a wave of attacks on police posts in slums that had previously been occupied under Rio's "pacification" program launched in 2008 to expel drug gangs to make the city safer ahead of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games. Prior to that effort, police presence was almost nonexistent, since drug gangs and other criminal groups had tight control of the complex.
The backlash heightened concerns about security and law and order during the global sports events Brazil's political leaders hope will showcase the emergence of a modern and prosperous nation.
President Dilma Rousseff agreed to a request from Rio's state governor for federal troops to be deployed in the more notorious slums ringing Rio during the World Cup. (Additional reporting by Tatiana Ramil in São Paulo; Writing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Prudence Crowther)