Police strike ends in Brazil's 3rd-largest city

AP News
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Posted: Feb 12, 2012 8:07 AM
Police strike ends in Brazil's 3rd-largest city

A police strike in a northeastern Brazilian state has ended, though a similar action in Rio de Janeiro continued but was having little effect Sunday just days before Carnival celebrations draw some 800,000 tourists to the city.

Police in the northeastern state of Bahia have voted to end their 12-day walkout, during which time the homicide rate doubled to more than 130 in the metropolitan area of Salvador, the state capital.

The strikes have stoked concerns about Brazil's security forces ahead of Salvador and Rio's hosting of 2014 soccer World Cup games and Rio's hosting of the 2016 Olympics.

Officer Ivan Leite, one of the strike leaders in Bahia, told reporters after a union meeting late Saturday when officers voted to end the work stoppage that mounting public pressure to halt the action before Carnival influenced officers' decision.

"We were being played against society," Leite said, adding that officers voted to end the strike to end the "suffering" of the population.

But authorities said a government decision Friday to halt salary payments to any officers still on strike had more influence on the vote.

Alfredo Castro, head of police in Bahia state, said that more than 3,000 army soldiers who were deployed to Salvador and smaller cities will continue to patrol until Carnival ends next week to ensure safety and an orderly transition as police return to their posts.

Through labor negotiations, officers in Bahia received a 6.5 percent pay raise, rights to some bonus payments and also amnesty against punishment against any striking officers as long as they did not commit any crimes during the stoppage.

Authorities had accused some officers of causing panic by encouraging looting and of using police cruisers while on strike, which they labeled as theft of public property. Officials are seeking the arrest of about a dozen officers, and the head of the union that called the strike is in custody. They're accused of fomenting panic by encouraging looting, vandalism, and illegally using government cars during the stoppage.

The pay-increase adds about $350 a month to officers' paychecks. Monthly salaries for officers in Bahia previously ranged between $1,100 and $1,330, depending on rank and experience.

The police strike in Rio de Janeiro state entered its third day, but there appeared to be little adherence to the action among the 58,000 officers. Rio was calm Sunday and pre-Carnival parties drawing tens of thousands to the streets during the weekend were carried out with no reports of serious problems.

Rio's security forces decided to walk out Friday to demand a pay raise, not content with a last-minute legislative approval of a 39 percent hike staggered over this year and the next.

The base pay for police starts at about $960 per month in Rio state, it can go to $1,170 for a starting officer willing to participate in available training courses, the department said.

There were concerns that the Rio police strike would cripple the city's Carnival celebrations, which pumps more than $500 million into the city's economy annually.