A weekend showdown between police and dozens of gunmen who authorities said were celebrating a drug lord's birthday in Rio de Janeiro's biggest slum sowed panic among motorists trapped in a tunnel near the shooting.

Television footage showed terrified people, some with children, abandoning their cars and running along the one-mile tunnel as police battled armed men just a few hundred yards from Rio's famed Leblon beach.

In the slum, police shot dead one suspected drug trafficker and wounded an innocent man, which sparked protests by residents of the hillside Rocinha slum.

Police said the battle started when they sent an elite unit Saturday night to prevent a large get together of drug traffickers in the "favela," or slum, for the birthday of Erismar Moreira, who police say is Rocinha's drug kingpin.

The shootout continued into early Sunday, outside the tunnel entrance and above the tunnel itself.

The tunnel was dark because gangsters blew up a power transformer that provided light to the roadway, police said on Monday.

The slum has been the scene of a gang turf war for over a year. This clash was the third one in the Rocinha area, which is also one of Rio's main drug distribution spots, in less than a month to have triggered protests by residents tired of crime and police violence.

Rio has one of the world's highest murder rates, with many of the deaths in slums where drug gangs rule. More than 1,200 people were killed in the first three months of this year, including deaths due to police enforcement, official figures show.

Police killed nearly 1,000 people last year, about the same as in 2003, with human rights groups accusing authorities of excessive violence.

Despite the disorders in Rocinha, it is considered relatively safe during day. Tourists visit it daily on special "favela tours."


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