President sends in troops as violence, murder descend on Brazil state amid police strike over pay

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Civil Police officers detain a looter, who was shot in the leg by police when he tried to plunder an electronic store, in Vitoria, Espirito Santo state, Brazil, Monday. Protests by the friends and family of military police in Espirito Santo have led to an increase in crime and forced the shutdown of some state services, authorities said Monday. | AP

Protests by the friends and family of military police in Espirito Santo have led to an increase in crime and forced the shut-down of some state services, authorities said Monday.

Acting Gov. Cesar Colnago asked for federal troops to provide security, and the first such forces were expected to arrive Monday night. About 200 members of the national guard were heading to the state, and an unknown number of military forces were also on their way. The defense minister is expected to travel to the state later Monday, his office said.

The protests calling for higher pay began this weekend outside barracks throughout the small, coastal state and have prevented vehicles from leaving. That has left the military police virtually unable to patrol, though a few foot patrols began Monday, the Department of Public Security said. The commander of the military police in the state has also been replaced.

The protests come as Brazil grapples with a deep, protracted recession and many states struggle financially. In Rio de Janeiro state, where the government is desperately trying to plug a massive deficit, public servants have repeatedly protested over late pay, sometimes clashing violently with police.

The protests in Espirito Santo have “paralyzed the military police service, not just in the capital but also in the entire state,” the state’s head of public security, Andre Garcia, told reporters. He said there has been a marked increase in crime since the protests began.

“Movements of this nature, they hold society hostage,” he said.

In Brazil, the military police play a crucial role in maintaining general security.

Because of security concerns, the capital city of Vitoria suspended most services Monday, though emergency services are being maintained with help from the municipal security force. The city closed schools, parks and health centers. The last means that there will be no vaccinations for yellow fever in the city, even as Brazil experiences its worst outbreak of the disease since 2000. Espirito Santo has seen 14 confirmed cases in the current outbreak, and dozens more are under investigation.

A court has ordered the protesters to end their blockade, but the protests have continued.

Because of their crucial role, members of the military police are not allowed to stage strikes. But Garcia, the head of public security, implied officers were behind the movement, which he called “supposedly spontaneous.”

Maj. Rogerio Fernandes Lima, a union representative, denied to reporters that the police had organized the protests but said they supported the goals, namely higher pay. He said officers in the state are among the worst paid in Brazil.

Brazil’s president on Monday ordered 200 troops to Espirito Santo, where a police strike in recent days sparked a wave of violence, including what is already believed to be dozens of murders.

The law enforcement stoppage in a state struggling with a budget shortfall is the latest example of how depleted public finances, amid Brazil’s worst recession on record, are crippling even basic health services, education and security in some states.

The crime surge in Espirito Santo, a small coastal state just north of Rio de Janeiro, began over the weekend, after police on Friday stopped work because of the pay dispute.

Since then, local media and citizens with cellphone videos have broadcast scenes of chaos as thieves and other criminals appear to run rampant, particularly in state capital Vitoria and its suburbs, home to about 2 million people.

Local media reported that as many as 50 people have died during the period, an unusually high death toll for the state in such a short period. But a state security spokesman said the government has not been able to make an official tally.

Schools in the area closed, as did public health clinics and other local offices. State officials, who argue they have no resources to raise wages, have already replaced the police commander and say they will not renew negotiations with officers until they return to work.

“There is no way we can accept this attitude, leaving the population deprived of an essential service like public security,” Cesar Colnago, the state’s governor, told reporters after announcing the federal aid.

President Michel Temer, who also authorized the use of federal troops to quell uprisings in prisons last month that led to around 140 deaths in various states, dispatched the country’s defense minister to Espirito Santo on Monday.

The state security spokesman said federal troops were expected to arrive by Tuesday.

Several other Brazilian states are grappling with a financial crisis. In Rio de Janeiro, the state government has been struggling to pay expenses including salaries of police, teachers and doctors and basic supplies for schools and hospitals.

via : japantimes

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