Latin America

Espirito Santo police return to work after murder wave

More than 1,000 officers return to work in Espirito Santo state after 144 people are killed during eight-day strike.

More than 1,000 police officers have returned to work in Brazil after an eight-day strike plunged a coastal state into violence and saw a dramatic increase in homicides.

More than 3,100 army soldiers and members of an elite federal police force helped patrol Espirito Santo state, which saw chaotic looting, assaults, vandalism and a six-fold increase in murders in the past week as police officers refused to work, demanding an increase in pay.

Local government officials told Al Jazeera that at least 1,000 officers returned to work on Sunday, while roughly 10,000 still adhered to the strike.

With police gone from the streets, there were at least 144 murders since the start of the strike on February 4, officials said.

"The worst seems to be over. Now, we are living one day at a time," Alexandre Gois, a resident of Vitoria, the capital of Espirito Santo state told Al Jazeera.

"We supported the strike the first few days. But it has to end, there's been too much violence. The police got what it needed, to show the population it depends on them."

'Why are we blamed?'

Felipe Alves, one of the policemen, said that the state had yet to make any concession to the officers regarding their monthly pay, which, at about $867, is among the lowest in Brazil, while it accused them of being responsible for the chaos.

"In Brazil, the policemen are blamed for the high levels of violence. But the teachers are not blamed for illiteracy. Neither the doctors for the bad conditions in the health care system."

"Why are we blamed?"

The state government has warned that 703 officers would be charged with rebellion, an offence that could see them sentenced to between eight and 20 years in prison.

Under Brazilian law, it is illegal for police to strike, which is why their family members have taken action to physically prevent police cars leaving barracks.

The police themselves have not tried to remove their families, leading to fears among some of the relatives that soldiers could try to remove them by force.

On Friday, similar strikes erupted at some of Rio de Janeiro's police stations over unpaid wages, and relatives of officers also blockaded police stations. But police were on duty Sunday morning.

Source: Al Jazeera News