Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Brazilians protest graft, bloodshed


Karine Botelho, 20, participates in a protest against violence and corruption in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Sunday.


Brazilians angered by gang violence that rocked South America's largest city gathered for demonstrations across the country, with many blaming the bloodshed that left 172 people dead on rampant corruption.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, meanwhile, made his first visit to Sao Paulo since the city was hit by a wave of gang attacks on police and said that the violence could not be stopped by simply beefing up the police presence.

Sunday was declared a "Day of National Dignity" by demonstrators in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other major cities, who were protesting the failure of politicians to crack down on organized crime.

"We're really protesting corruption," said Gabriela Campos Paulino, who was organizing the Sao Paulo march. She said demonstrators were honoring slain police officers during the march.

"Corruption generates this type of lack of governance and lack of security," she said.

Starting May 12 the First Capital Command gang killed 41 police officers and prison guards, torched dozens of city buses and orchestrated simultaneous prison rebellions across the state.

Police fightback

Over the following days, police struck back, killing 109 suspected criminals, many in unclear circumstances. Eighteen prison inmates and four bystanders were also killed.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 protesters showed up for the march in Sao Paulo, according to police estimates.

"We had this march planned before the attacks, but the attacks give us more to scream about," Paulino said.

In Rio de Janeiro about 200 to 300 protesters gathered, holding a minute of silence for those killed in the violence.

"We are the little fish, but we intend to grow," said actress Christiane Torlioni at the Rio march.

Silva said Brazilians have to address the roots of the violence.

"This problem of violence is cultural and needs a lot more than police," the leftist president said at the inauguration of a new union hall. "Why are the bandits free to do what they want and we don't have control? Why do lawyers not want to be searched when they visit prisoners? We need to meditate more deeply over a solution."

Silva said that Sao Paulo state Governor Claudio Lembo, a member of the opposition Liberal Front Party, "couldn't have done any more than he did."

Lembo was quoted in Sunday's Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper acknowledging for the first time that police may have committed abuses as they reacted to killings of their comrades.

The gang shot police on the streets, at their stations, in their homes and at hangouts in reprisal for an attempt to transfer eight gang leaders to a high-security prison hundreds of kilometers from Sao Paulo.

Human rights groups said they feared police may have killed innocent bystanders in their subsequent crackdown.

"I hope there weren't innocent people killed," Lembo told the newspaper. "But it is such a difficult moment for the police with confrontations that occurred and it is eventually possible that some innocents were killed."


Lembo, however, balked at identifying those killed, information demanded by rights groups.

"It's a question of preserving the privacy of the families," Lembo told reporters on Saturday. "Each one will have a proper death certificate issued."

Local news media reported that the Sao Paulo State Security Secretariat had seized the forensic reports of those who were reportedly killed by police. State security and morgue officials declined to comment on the reports.

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