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Rio police crisis threatens carnival security

Latest update : 2008-01-31

Dozens of senior police officers in Rio de Janeiro resigned to protest the dismissal of a commander, throwing the Brazilian city's security forces into crisis as its famed Carnival celebrations began.

Security at Rio de Janeiro's famed carnival looked under threat Wednesday after state authorities sacked 10 police commanders for "insubordination" amid a bitter labor dispute.
  
The official in charge of security for Rio de Janeiro state, Jose Mario Beltrame, on Tuesday dismissed the chief of the military police service for authorizing a weekend demonstration on Ipanema beach by 500 officers demanding a pay hike.
  
Nine other police colonels were also given their marching orders.
  
The firings came just ahead of the peak of the weeklong carnival celebrations. On Sunday and Monday, samba schools are to parade through the city in extravagant displays broadcast around the world.
  
Some 700,000 tourists -- including more than 200,000 foreigners -- are expected to be in the city for the massive summer street party, whose security depends on the 9,700 military police deployed.
  
The state government has justified the controversial sackings by pointing out that the military police service, unlike its civilian counterpart, comes under the same rules as the army -- meaning members have no rights to join a union nor to go on strike.
  
Beltrame said the sacked police chief Colonel Ubiratan Angelo was guilty of "an act of insubordination" for permitting the police pay protest. He named Angelo's replacement as 53-year-old Colonel Gilson Pitta Lopes.
  
The forced exit of the police commanders has deepened rancor within the ranks of the military police service, which is also responsible for cracking down on Rio's notoriously crime-filled slums.
  
Its officers, who start their careers with a monthly salary of 850 reals (480 dollars), are calling for a pay increase to bring them into line with their civilian police counterparts.
  
Forty military police officers -- including 20 batallion or operational unit commanders -- are threatening to quit if the state government does not go back on its decision, the daily O Globo reported.
  
But Beltrame told reporters Wednesday he "had no intention of backing down."
  
The crisis comes as the military police are engaged in a vast offensive against slum drug lords ordered last year by Rio state governor Sergio Cabral. In 2007, 24 military police officers were killed and 330 were wounded.
  
Officers were to draw attention to that toll by placing a cross representing fallen comrades on a Rio beach.
  
While the turmoil was sapping the militarized service, Rio's civilian police were being ordered into the breach. Early Wednesday, they killed at least nine suspected drug traffickers in an operation in slums in the north of the city.

Date created : 2008-01-31

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