Gang shootings give bloody start to new year in Macau
MACAU (CNN) -- A turf war between rival gangsters in Macau has reignited with an escalation of shootings that have threatened to devastate the Portuguese colony's tourism-driven economy.
Masked gunmen shot and wounded two men on Thursday, seizing about $775,000 in cash. Police said it was the fifth shooting in as many days.
The stolen money was believed to belong to a "clandestine bank" dealing in illicit currency exchange between mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, police said.
Violence between gangsters seeking control of Macau's lucrative gambling industry halted briefly last fall, but resumed dramatically with the start of the new year.
"After a period of truce, without much violence in town, people expected it was all over," said newspaper editor Ricardo Pinto. "Suddenly, new violence has come up. In the first five days of January, it seems to be the worst ever."
Some blame the renewed violence on Asia's economic crisis. Earnings at Macau's nine legal casinos have dropped in the wake of collapsing economies in neighboring nations such as Japan, South Korea and Indonesia.
As a result, casino operators, loan sharks and pimps are fighting over a steadily shrinking pie.
"It used to always be between them. Not anymore," Pinto said. "Some officials are being shot, prison officials are being shot. Now, it's very common."
That violence has begun spilling over into Macau's tourism industry.
"It has hurt very hard, I can say," said restaurant owner Henrique Pedruco. "Shooting around, so fewer and fewer people from Hong Kong are coming to Macau, so it gives us a very difficult time."
Macau officials have pledged to crush organized crime. On Thursday, Police arrested the younger brother of suspected top gangster Wan Kuok-koi, also known as "Broken Tooth" Koi, who is in jail awaiting trial.
But many residents fear the shootings will only escalate with the approach of Macau's return to Chinese rule, scheduled for December.
Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this report.
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