8 Dead From Violence Day Before Brazil's Carnival

Gunfire erupted Thursday in a Rio de Janeiro slum, killing at least seven suspected drug traffickers and a policeman a day before Carnival celebrations kick off.

A police spokesman said the gunbattle in the Jacarezinho slum started while police were on a routine patrol. He declined to be quoted by name, citing standard department policy.

Jacarezinho is located in northern Rio, far from the tourist areas and the Carnival parties that open Friday and draw about 500,000 visitors each year.

But the violence nevertheless adds to concerns about the city's image and how much it will be able to curtail violence as it prepares to host the 2016 Olympics.

Thursday was one of the bloodiest days in Rio since October, when a drug gang war saw police kill scores of suspects during two weeks of operations. That violence was ignited when a police helicopter was shot down by suspected traffickers, and 2,000 officers began raiding slums to look for those responsible.

Rio's aggressive policing has been criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups, who say police here kill three people each day on average.

Officials defend their tactics, saying they are going up against gangs armed with assault rifles, grenades and even anti-aircraft weapons.

Also Thursday, police found the body of the co-founder of a local non-governmental organization that offers slum youth theater training. Fred Pinheiro, whose throat was slit, had been missing for two days.

Police said there was no known motive and no suspects were in custody.