Brazil scrambles to end Rio police strike

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Police in Rio de Janeiro have gone on strike, raising concern for the Brazilian city’s annual carnival celebrations after similar industrial action by officers in the north-eastern city of Salvador led to a wave of homicides.

The federal government was ready to deploy more than 14,000 troops if needed in Rio to avoid a repeat of the situation in Salvador, where about 150 people have been killed since a police strike started on January 31.

The events raise concerns over the preparedness of Rio and Salvador for Brazil’s carnival celebrations, and over law and order in the country ahead of the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later.

“If you look at the history of it, in the past 10 years, it’s been three to four times that this has happened,” said Matias Spektor, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, an academic institution, in Rio de Janeiro. “Whenever the police force wants a raise, they strike and sometimes they resort to violence.”

Law and order in Brazil’s major cities of Rio and São Paulo has improved steadily in recent years, with the authorities making an extra effort to reduce crime ahead of the World Cup.

But part of the problem has shifted to Brazil’s north-east, particularly Salvador, capital of Bahia state, which was once one of the country’s poorest regions but is now benefiting from China-like growth rates.

The police strike, in which officers are demanding higher wages, has highlighted the fragile law-and-order situation in Salvador even as, like Rio, it prepares to host thousands of visitors for carnival next week.

President Dilma Rousseff was forced to dispatch 3,000 federal troops to Salvador to quell the violence, where bandits went on a murder spree and were robbing shops and buses.

In Rio on Friday, conditions were normal and preparations for carnival continued as planned as the police force gave assurances that minimum levels of security would be maintained.

They also said that the police pacification units in the favelas, or slums, where officers keep watch over neighbourhoods that were once run by drug traffickers, were operating normally.

The protests have put the president’s ruling Workers’ party in an uncomfortable position given its roots in Brazil’s labour union movement and its past leadership of industrial action when it was in opposition.

The Rio state parliament voted on Thursday afternoon for a 13 per cent rise in police salaries to R$1,816 ($1,053) and an additional raise next year to try to head off the action.

But police want to more than double their salaries, which they complain are lower than in the private sector.

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