Brazil troops, police continue standoff

AP, SALVADOR, BRAZIL

Thu, Feb 09, 2012 - Page 7

As many as 300 striking police officers and their relatives held out on Tuesday as heavily armed soldiers blockaded a state legislature building in northeastern Brazil.

About 1,000 soldiers and officers from an elite federal police unit ringed the building in the Bahia state capital of Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city with 2.7 million people and a scheduled host for matches during the 2014 World Cup.

The striking officers, some armed with handguns, were demanding pay raises and amnesty for what a judge ruled an illegal work stoppage.

Authorities said some children and wives of officers were inside the building, but it was not clear how many. Some had left during the previous 24 hours.

About one-third of Bahia’s 30,000 police went on strike a week ago, and murders in the capital’s metropolitan area immediately spiked to double normal rates. Official say there have been at least 100 murders since Jan. 31, when the strike began.

However, violence has plummeted after about 2,000 troops and 600 elite federal police were sent in on Sunday and began patrolling the city in armored personnel carriers.

Soldiers in camouflage and toting long rifles have taken up posts on street corners in the city’s historic center and on its beaches, where tourists are concentrated. Schools were mostly shut, many businesses were closed and the streets were unusually empty.

Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner said on Tuesday that negotiators were talking with union leaders inside the legislature building, and he expressed optimism that the standoff would end peacefully soon.

The strikers have narrowed their demands to amnesty for the walkout and payment of bonuses that would add about US$350 a month to officers’ paychecks.

Monthly salaries for officers in Bahia now range between US$1,100 and US$1,330, depending on rank and experience.

The state government has offered a raise of 6.5 percent and no amnesty for the striking officers.

A state judge last week ruled the strike illegal, saying striking officers who do not return face fines of US$45,000.