Soldiers surround striking police amid wave of lawlessness in Brazil
Feb 6, 2012, 18:37 GMT
Salvador, Brazil - Some 600 Brazilian soldiers surrounded the legislature of the northeastern state of Bahia on Monday, which was being occupied by striking local police.
The strike, which started Tuesday, has seen a huge rise in crime in the coastal city of Salvador, which has left at least 93 dead according to official figures. There have also been many robberies and burglaries, in the face of a conspicuous absence of police on the streets of a city of 2.7 million people.
The army's spokesman in Bahia, Lieutenant Colonel Marcio Cunha, said troops would not storm the building, in which hundreds of strikers are staying, in many cases along with their wives and children. They demand better pay and working conditions, local news reports said.
Brazilian authorities on Sunday deployed over 3,000 soldiers to bring order to Salvador. National authorities have called the police action irresponsible and criminal, and a court has ordered the striking officers to return to work.
About 40 members of a special police unit travelled to Salvador de Bahia Sunday with orders to arrest 12 of the strike's leaders, one of whom turned himself in.
Cunha said the soldiers' 'only mission' is to create conditions for federal police to be able to secure the 11 pending arrests. However, Bahia Public Security Minister Mauricio Barbosa did not rule out that soldiers might storm the legislature.
'Our intention is to reach a negotiated solution, but there is a court-ordered arrest warrant, and court rulings have to be enforced,' Barbosa said.
The strike leaders, in turn, refused to leave the building voluntarily.
'There's going to be a massacre here, and (Bahia Governor) Jacques Wagner will be the one to blame,' Valdeck Filho, spokeman for strike leader Marco Prisco, told the website UOL.
Fears were rising as Carnival celebrations approached. Salvador's Carnival celebrations are the longest and most crowded in Brazil and draw tens of thousands of tourists. Governor Wagner stressed, however, that the problem would be over by the start of the feast.
'There are still 10 or 11 days till Carnival,' he told the daily Folha de Sao Paulo.'It will be over by then.'
Strikers rejected Sunday a 6.5-per-cent raise and insist on the release of those of their colleagues who have been arrested, as well as an amnesty for all those involved in the protest.
Wagner refused. 'I will not sign an amnesty for those who committed crimes, invaded buses and murdered beggars,' he said.
'There is no such thing as an amnesty. It only exists once an exceptional regime ends. And we're not in an exceptional regime.'