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Brazil police strike ends after looting, 39 deaths World Cup concerns grow

SALVADOR, Brazil, April 18, (AFP): Troops patrolled the World Cup host city of Salvador on Thursday after a deadly orgy of violence triggered by a police strike less than two months before thousands of fans descend on the coastal Brazilian metropolis for the football extravaganza. Thirty-nine deaths and widespread looting of supermarkets, pharmacies and electronics stores were reported in a 48-hour crime wave, adding to concerns about Brazil’s ability to deliver a safe World Cup. State officials said Thursday police were back on duty after ending their industrial dispute, which got under way on Tuesday. “The strike is now over,” state government spokesman Isaac Jorge said, describing the death toll in the city as “well above normal, though not absurdly so.” Two years ago, 157 people died in a wave of violence after Bahia police went on strike for 12 days. Large-scale looting and dozens of murders were reported in the city, which has a reputation as one of Brazil’s most dangerous and will host six matches during the World Cup. Hundreds of elite police units and soldiers armed with assault rifles guarded the streets Thursday afternoon after President Dilma Rousseff ordered their deployment.

“I authorized the deployment of federal troops to support public security and guarantee the peace in Bahia,” Rousseff wrote on Twitter. “It is unacceptable that the security of Bahia’s population be at risk.” The defense ministry said 2,500 soldiers had been mobilized while Rousseff also authorized the deployment of 250 national elite police officers, a figure that could be boosted to 5,000 men “until normal conditions are re-established,” the ministry said prior to news the strike had ended. Following a police meeting agreeing the end of the walkout residents greeted the news with shouts of “the police are back,” Globo news portal G1 reported. Local authorities indicated at least 50 arrests had been made and Globo television showed images of looted stores and arrests being made following a stealing frenzy that lasted from Tuesday to early Thursday.


A Bahia state court declared the strike illegal and imposed a daily $22,000 fine against the union until the officers, who are demanding a pay increase and career plan improvements, returned to work.
Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city and renowned for its colonial era architecture and carnival celebrations, hopes to gain a tourist boost as a World Cup host city during the June 12-July 13 event.
But its violent reputation is based on a murder rate for Bahia state which soared by 400 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 41.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Brazil’s Applied Economics Research Institute. Jorge indicated that authorities would meet some strikers’ demands, including for better pay, although such measures are subject to approval by the state legislature. Strike leader Marco Prisco is chairman of the regional police officers’ and firefighters’ association but also a municipal councillor with the Social Democratic party (PSDB), in opposition to the ruling Workers Party (PT).


Prisco was elected after the 2012 violence which marred the carnival period at the height of Salvador’s tourist season and several sources say he is hoping to be elected a congressional lawmaker in October’s general elections. Salvador is scheduled to host six World Cup matches. World champions Spain play the Netherlands, whom they defeated in the 2010 final, on June 13 in the city’s Fonte Nova Arena, while Germany take on Portugal three days later, France meet Switzerland on June 20 and Bosnia face Iran on June 25. The stadium will also host one second phase match and one quarter-final.

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