Brazil state faces deadly chaos amid police strike

Scores dead amid wave of violence since strike began five days ago, spurring calls for more troops in Espirito Santo.

Violence continues in Brazilian state with policemen on strike
Many people blame the country's economic problems on widespread corruption [EPA]

The Brazilian governor of a southeastern state, which has faced a major wave of deadly violence and crime since its police force launched a strike five days ago, has called for more army troops to help end the unrest there.

About 90 people have been killed and 200 lootings committed amid widespread turmoil, which has forced a shutdown of public services across Espirito Santo, since police left their posts in protest over low wages on Friday night, according to a police union.

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Cesar Colnago, the state’s governor, said on Wednesday that the deployment of about 1,000 soldiers was “not sufficient” to halt the unrest.

“We are taking steps to increase the level of the National Force, which is police, and of the armed forces so that we can have security,” he said, adding that people were so fearful of being attacked on the streets that it was as if they were in prison.

Andre Garcia, head of Espirito Santo’s public safety department, said that the violence has diminished since the arrival of the first troops this week, but that he would still like to see an additional 1,000 troops sent to the state.

The deadly violence in the state capital of Vitoria and other cities erupted as friends and family of military police officers blocked their barracks over the weekend to demand higher pay for the officers, preventing patrols from cruising the streets.

According to the local police union, there have been about 90 murders since the unrest started on Saturday, compared with just four in all of January.

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It also reported $29m in damages to businesses, including from mass looting of stores.

The government has yet to give official crime statistics.

At least two buses have been torched over the past five days in Vitoria and several stores have been looted, leading six shopping malls to close their doors.

Buses that had resumed circulating on Tuesday were again off the streets on Wednesday. Schools were shut and medical services at public hospitals were interrupted.

Public services disrupted

Brazilian media broadcast footage of looting, carjackings and muggings in municipalities abandoned by police officers.

Brazilian law bars the police force from going on strike.

In Espirito Santo, however, relatives and sympathisers are blockading police stations, and officers inside are making no effort to come out – effectively leaving the city unguarded.

Relatives of police officers camp at the entrance of police HQ to block the main entrance during the strike [Reuters]
Relatives of police officers camp at the entrance of police HQ to block the main entrance during the strike [Reuters]

The police want better work conditions and higher salaries. A court declared the action an illegal strike and the state police chief has been replaced.

The crisis reflects nationwide budget crises blamed largely on corruption in Brazil, which has faced a crippling recession for two years and is struggling to return to growth.

The country is also one of the most violent in the world, with heavily armed criminals battling both on the streets and in prisons.

Last month clashes inside a prison near the northern city of Natal left 26 people dead, prompting the deployment of army troops.

Source: News Agencies