Two suspected drug traffickers were killed in a police operation in Complejo da Mare, a huge group of "favelas," or shantytowns, in northern Rio de Janeiro, that sparked protests and led to the closing of the main access road into the city, Brazilian police said.

The two men killed by officers on Saturday were armed with pistols and belonged to the gang that operates in the area, the Rio de Janeiro state police's Special Operations Battalion, or BOPE, said.

Fabricio de Souza Melo, 25, and Diones Nunes da Silva, 25, were pronounced dead at Bonsucesso Hospital, media reports said.

Mare residents threw burning objects on the Linha Vermelha highway, the main route from the city to the international airport, which surrounds the slum.

Part of the highway was blocked for nearly 20 minutes on Saturday morning, the Rio de Janeiro municipal operations center said.

Patrols were stepped up on the roads that lead into Rio de Janeiro after the protests, police said.

Officials plan to expel the drug gangs that operate in the shantytown complex in the next few months and will build a new BOPE barracks in Mare. EFE