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Striking Brazil police end standoff with army

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-02-09

An ongoing police strike in Brazil’s third-largest city could disrupt this year’s Carnival celebrations, even after officers peacefully ended a nine-day standoff with soldiers at a government building.

Striking police officers in Brazil’s northeast state of Bahia ended their occupation of a government building on Thursday, but their strike threatened to grow to six other states and disrupt this year’s Carnival celebrations, local press reported.

PICTURES IN BRAZILIAN PRESS

Websites from Brazil's leading dailies have featured arresting images from the standoff between striking police in the State of Bahia and soldiers sent in to restore order.

La Folha de Sao Paulo

O Globo

Jornal do Brasil
 

“President [Dilma] Rousseff was informed that the strike action in Bahia was part of a national movement to put pressure on the government,” the leading Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper wrote on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Jornal do Brasil daily revealed leaked phone conversations between police union leaders in which they planned extending the strike to Rio de Janeiro.

Nine days after invading the Bahia State legislature, police officers began peacefully exiting the building at 6:30am local time. However, the officers said they were still on strike for better pay and benefits, fueling ongoing security concerns in Brazil’s third-largest city a week before the start of its world-famous Carnival season.

Pay rise and amnesty

On Jan 31, a large contingency of police officers invaded the state government’s buildings and refused to leave. Roving bands of striking police also interrupted highway traffic and pressured other officers to join the movement. About one-third of the Bahia’s 30,000 police are on strike, authorities said.

The police are demanding a pay rise and better working conditions in accordance with legislature they say is already in existence but is not being applied. Salaries for officers in Bahia now range between 830 and 1,000 euros per month depending on rank and experience.

More than 3,500 soldiers and federal police were mobilized to Bahia to restore order after police abandoned their posts, while around 1,500 soldiers circled the occupied government building.

Supporters of the disgruntled police clashed with soldiers outside the occupied building earlier in the week, and attempts on Monday to breach a barricade manned by around 1,000 uniformed troops were met by rubber bullets and tear gas.

On Wednesday the strikers had narrowed their demands to amnesty for the walkout and bonuses that would raise their monthly paychecks by about 260 euros.

The state government agreed to a pay rise but refused to offer blanket amnesty. Authorities were seeking the arrest of 11 holed-up police officers who are wanted for allegedly organizing looting during the strike.

On Thursday morning the first group of striking police exited the government building, telling local media that the group were left with no other choice after the compound’s siege by military personnel who cut access to water and electricity.

Soldiers had tightened the security ring around the building using military vehicles to block traffic. Family, friends and colleagues of the estimated 300 officers holed up inside told local media they could no longer send in food and medicine.

Crime up, tourism down

Local news outlets reported that the crime rate in the state had doubled since police officers began their strike, but the heavy military presence from the weekend had restored order.

The Brazilian Association of Tourism Agencies said in a statement that planned visits to the area had fallen by 10% since the start of the strike, the Folha de Sao Paulo daily reported.

The State of Bahia is home to the city of San Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city and a major tourist destination for foreigners as well as Brazilians.

While the standoff between police and soldiers ended, it was still not clear if Carnival celebrations would continue as planned.

Salvador is also one of 12 cities that is due to host 2014 soccer World Cup matches.

Date created : 2012-02-09

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