Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Death toll rises in Sao Paulo gang war

POLICE STRIKE BACK The state government said 33 suspects were killed on Tuesday even as overall violence in the city declined for the first time since last Thursday

AP , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

Joelson Barros, driving the motorcycle, and his wife Marcia, are stopped by police at a checkpoint in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Police killed 33 suspected gang members and searched motorists at roadblocks as officers sought to quell a wave of attacks on police stations, courts and buses that had plunged South America's largest city into fear.

While gang attacks fell off sharply on Tuesday, the death toll since the violence began Friday soared to 133 as police struck back at the gangs who had rampaged to protest the prison transfer of their leaders.

Officers "acted within the law, but that doesn't mean we have to let them humiliate us," Marco Antonio Desgualdo, a top Sao Paulo state law enforcement official, told reporters.

He did not give specifics about the killings.

Authorities said 33 suspected criminals were killed on Tuesday, bringing to 71 the number of suspected gang members killed since Friday night, Sao Paulo's state government said in a statement. The statement said 40 police officers and jail guards and four civilians were also killed.

Nine inmates died in the jails administered by the state government's public security agency, said spokeswoman Carolina Farias.

Nine prisoners died in prisons overseen by the state government's separate penitentiary division, the agency said in a statement.

Neither Farias nor penitentiary spokesman Marcelo Daniel knew how they died.

With guns drawn on Tuesday, plainclothes police in a suburb of South America's largest city stopped and frisked motorists in a hunt for more gang members.

Police in Osasco, 15km from the center of Sao Paulo, were targeting motorcyclists with passengers for spot checks after one of their own was shot and killed by a gunman on the back of a bike, Officer Vladimir Storel said.

The dead officer was the only policeman killed this year in the suburb of 1 million.

"We're only out here because of the attacks," said Storel, surrounded by fellow policemen wielding pistols, shotguns and Uzi submachine guns.

Across Sao Paulo, police were redeployed in greater numbers to halt the attacks, and authorities said at least 115 people had been arrested since Friday night.

But many citizens said the ferocity of the First Capital Command gang, known as PCC, made them doubt law enforcement will ever solve the gang problem.

Some Sao Paulo residents said they have a new fear: being seen near police officers who could be targeted by attackers.

"Now you get scared when you pass police," said bank manager Cleide Boeing, 45. "I trying to stay away from the police now."

"It's a civil war," said Manuela Nascimento, a 24-year-old newsstand worker.

"I leave my house scared and go to work scared," she said.

The violence was triggered last Thursday by an attempt to isolate the gang leaders -- who control many of city's teeming, notoriously corrupt prisons -- by transferring eight to a high-security facility.

The gang leaders reportedly used mobile phones to order the attacks.

Sao Paulo's top two newspapers reported on Tuesday that authorities cut a deal with the gang to stop the attacks -- claims Desgualdo strongly denied.

But crime experts said such a deal sounded plausible, given the growing strength of the PCC, which was formed in a prison in 1993 and has since expanded to between 10,000 and 30,000 members.

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