Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Armed police quell Sao Paulo violence

SHOOT TO KILL After four days of gang-related trouble left more than 80 people dead, the state governor declared that the authorities were back in control of the city

AP , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Heavily armed police ready to shoot first and ask questions later guarded the deserted streets of South America's largest city through the night, after four days of unprecedented gang attacks that left more than 80 people dead and terrified Sao Paulo's 18 million residents.

"We're at war with them, there will be more casualties, but we won't back down," state military police chief Colonel Elizeu Teixeira Borges said of the gangs that launched a spree of attacks on police stations, bars and banks in response to the prison transfers of their leaders.

Near hastily-shuttered bus-inesses in a blue-collar neighborhood on Monday night, a dozen officers with shotguns and pistols said they did not fear overnight gang attacks that already killed dozens of their fellow police and prompted businesses to send workers home by 4pm.

"Everything's closing up, but we'll be here waiting," said a grim Officer Edvan Oliveira, his finger resting on the trigger of his shotgun. "We want them to come."

Twenty-one new killings were reported on Monday, the state government of Sao Paulo said, putting the death toll at 81 in the spree: 39 police officers and prison guards, 38 suspected gang members and four civilians caught in 184 attacks since Friday.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered to send 4,000 elite troops to restore order, but Sao Paulo state Governor Claudio Lembo insisted the help wasn't needed -- even as the chaos prompted the stock market to cancel late trading and a city that never sleeps was eerily quiet at the start of the work week in Brazil's financial and industrial heart.

"We are in control of the city and we will preserve this control," Lembo declared. "At this moment the army is unnecessary."

By late Monday night, all 73 prison rebellions that broke out had been quelled and police pointed to a grim figure to push their claim that the situation would soon come back to something like normal. Mostly police officers and prison guards were killed on Friday and Saturday nights -- but the tally of dead in overnight violence from Sunday to Monday was almost exclusively suspected gang members killed in shootouts with police.

Silva called the violence "a provocation, a show of force by organized crime," adding that the gangs' "tentacles are spread around the world and we must use a lot of intelligence" to quell the chaos their attacks caused.

The violence was triggered on Thursday by an attempt to isolate leaders of the First Capital Command gang, who control the drugs trade and many of Sao Paulo's teeming, notoriously corrupt prisons, by transferring eight of them last week to a high-security facility in a remote part of Sao Paulo state. Leaders of the gang, known here as the PCC, reportedly used cellphones the next day to order the attacks.

Officials were worried the violence could spread to Rio de Janeiro, where 40,000 police were put on high alert and extra patrols were dispatched to slums where drug gang leaders live, police spokeswoman Thais Nunes said. There were also sporadic reports of violence in other cities in Sao Paulo state, including the killing of a prison guard with 20 shots to the head, Globo TV reported.

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