Brazilian troops tighten security at police strike

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2012 4:53 PM
Brazilian troops tighten security at police strike

Troops tightened the security ring around a Brazilian state legislature building Wednesday, seeking to step up pressure on the hundreds of striking police barricaded inside as the city's Carnival festivities approach.

Soldiers used military vehicles and barricades to block traffic to the building, and family, friends and colleagues of the estimated 300 officers holed up inside said troops were no longer letting them send in food and medicine.

About one-third of Bahia state's 30,000 patrolling police went on strike last week. That led to a doubling of the murder rate in Salvador, the nation's third-largest city, and the looting of stores. About 3,600 soldiers and federal police officers moved into the city Sunday, which helped quell the murders but the city remained on edge.

An army spokesman, Lt. Marcio Cunha, said any striking officers who wanted to eat or drink had to leave the legislature building, and they would not be allowed back inside.

The beefed-up measures soured a formerly jovial atmosphere among several hundred strike supporters camped out on the building's sprawling grounds.

On Tuesday, their makeshift encampment had something of a carnival-esque feeling, with groups of people lounging under palm trees, snacking on peanuts and sipping soft drinks. A day later, a spirit of grim determination prevailed.

"Their (the military's) strategy is to make conditions really tough for people, both inside and out, so that they'll just leave," said Ana Lucia Brito Carvalho, whose 28-year-old nephew has been inside the building since the strike started Jan. 31. "They're trying to squeeze the strike to death."

The standoff had appeared to be nearing a settlement Tuesday, with Bahia Gov. Jaques Wagner saying he was hopeful a breakthrough in negotiations was imminent. But no deal was reached, and it was not even clear if talks had resumed Wednesday.

The strikers have narrowed their demands to amnesty for the walkout and payment of bonuses that would add about $350 a month to officers' paychecks. Monthly salaries for officers in Bahia now range between $1,100 and $1,330, depending on rank and experience.

The state government has offered a raise of 6.5 percent as well as bonuses. But it has refused to offer amnesty for the striking officers, which appears to be the sticking point.

The standoff comes as the Feb. 17 start of Salvador's Carnival grows near. The city has Brazil's second largest Carnival and the five-day-long celebrations are a major source of revenue for the city.

There was a chance that Bahia's police strike could spread to other states.

In Rio de Janeiro, police, firefighters and other public workers planned to meet Thursday to decide whether to start a strike that could cripple festivities in Brazil's premier Carnival showcase. Police in as many as seven other states were contemplating similar action.