Fri, May 19, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Sao Paulo police gun down 22 suspects

CLASHES Order appeared to have been restored, but some accused the police of taking revenge on a gang blamed for violence that has left more than 150 dead

AFP , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

A passerby walks in front of graffiti painted on the wall of the former Carandiru prison complex in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday. The graffiti on the left reads: ``On the other side of the wall, what the system can cause ... on this side what 'it' cannot avoid!'' South America's biggest city has been gripped by fear since a powerful gang launched attacks on police stations, banks and buses, and initiated prison uprisings.

PHOTO: AFP

Police shot dead at least 22 people on Wednesday in a crackdown on a powerful criminal gang blamed for lethal attacks in Sao Paulo as Brazil's president criticized local authorities for refusing federal assistance.

After violence left more than 150 dead in five days, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said it appeared that order had been restored but said the state of Sao Paulo refused offers of help from the federal government.

The central government offered assistance to the governor of Sao Paulo, Claudio Lembo, but "he said kindly that he didn't need it," Lula told reporters.

Amid press headlines of "revenge" and "massacre in Sao Paulo," state authorities said 93 followers of the Capital First Command gang, better known by its Portuguese initials PCC, have been killed over the five days.

The clashes claimed the lives of 40 police and four members of the public, and 18 prisoners have died in prison riots blamed on the PCC.

"The situation is under control," said Lembo, the governor of Sao Paulo, after another night of violence in which police shot dead 22 suspects.

The PCC unleashed the violence last Friday after several hundred of its members, including its leader Marcos Cacho, also known as "Marcola," were moved from various jails into a top security prison.

City police commander Elizeu Teixera Borges said the most recent violence was not caused by the gangs but by opportunists trying to exploit the chaos.

While Lula said the situation appeared to be improving, the president said that "we remain worried because organized crime definitely cannot be more powerful than society, than the police, than the state [of Sao Paulo] or the Union [federal government]."

Asked about polls that showed the public blamed both the Sao Paulo authorities and the federal government, Lula said: "I think that we all are responsible. I believe that all of Brazilian society is responsible."

Lula said a lack of investment in education in recent decades had created the conditions for gang violence. He also said he had seen press reports saying the state authorities may have negotiated an accord with the PCC leadership.

The Sao Paulo government denied an agreement had been reached but has admitted there were contacts with Marcola at the Presidente Bernardes prison where he is held.

A poll published on Wednesday by the Datafolha institute showed that 65 percent of the city's population believed that authorities had negotiated with the PCC and 42 percent condemned the talks.

Sao Paulo's shaken inhabitants said the country needed tougher laws against crime, social programs and no concessions granted to gang leaders.

"We need to reform the prison system and amend the penal code to have tougher laws against criminal organizations. It is an embarrassment for Brazil that these criminals are more organized than the police," said priest Juarez Castro, communication secretary for the archdiocese of Sao Paulo.

Police believed that PCC leaders were orchestrating the violence from their cells using mobile phones and ordered transmitting towers near prisons to be closed down.

They also ordered a crackdown on the gang in the Sao Paulo metropolis, a sprawling region with 20 million inhabitants.

Officers carrying sub-machine guns were on patrol in volatile areas while newspapers used headlines such as "On the fifth day, revenge" and "Police respond with a massacre in Sao Paulo" to describe the police reaction.

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