Argentina launches drug gang offensive after violence rocks farm hub city

By Miguel Lo Bianco and Agustin Marcarian

ROSARIO (Reuters) - Argentina launched an offensive on gangs in the farm hub city of Rosario on Wednesday, bringing in some 575 security personnel after a spate of attacks including the killing of an 11-year-old boy and a threat against soccer star Lionel Messi.

The inland river port city, that has a history of gang violence, has seen around one murder a day this year, which has rattled the country and prompted a major national response.

"We have brought federal forces with enough might to take action all around the city," Minister of Security Anibal Fernandez said at an event in Rosario, pledging to fight "to the bone" to deal with the gangs.

"We have come to do that, to work together and without ceasing to get to the root of the issue."

On the streets of Rosario, Reuters reporters saw armored vehicles and patrols carrying out searches and document checks. Many people spoke of their fear of the gangs.

"If you go out you have to be aware of your children, older people," said Roxana, 47, a resident of a poor neighborhood in Rosario. "There is always fear for the children and for ourselves, the people who work."

On a wall in a poor district was daubed the word "death". In another place a house allegedly belonging to drug gangs had been destroyed by local residents in retaliation for the killing of a local child.

"Here there are deaths everywhere. That can't, shouldn't happen to us people here in Argentina," said local resident Oscar Ruiz.

A spotlight was put on the violence earlier this month when two people on motorcycles shot at a supermarket in Rosario belonging to the family of Messi's wife Antonela Roccuzzo, leaving a message: "Messi, we are waiting for you."

Fernandez, the security minister, said the issue was something far wider.

"We are talking about neighborhoods that suffer from this presence because the gangs steal, because they pressure people, because they squeeze people and because they hurt people," he said.

(Reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco and Agustin Marcarian; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Daniel Wallis)