Brazilian military takes charge in Bahia

Brazilian security forces took control of Bahia on Sunday, patrolling key intersections in the state capital Salvador after a police strike led to a spike in murders and other violent crimes.

A force of 2,600 army, navy and federal police was ordered to Brazil's fourth most populous state after local police went on strike on Wednesday demanding higher pay, weeks before the annual Carnival.

Homicides had skyrocketed. Officials in the northeastern state said 81 murders were reported over the past five days, double the number for the same period last year. Assaults and store lootings also increased.

The top army commander, General Enzo Martins, told the state news agency Agencia Brasil on Sunday that 900 more soldiers will be arriving in Bahia shortly to provide security.

The strike and the spike in violence came just two weeks before millions of tourists were expected to arrive for Brazil's premier tourist event, the Carnival. Bahia, with a population of 13.6 million, is a main Carnival center.

"This strike, in the way it is being carried out, is unacceptable," Brazilian Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said.

One strike leader was arrested on Sunday on charges of "incitement to violence, forming gangs and theft of public property," officials said. Arrest warrants were outstanding against the 11 other leaders.

Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner said the strike was illegal and accused the movement's leaders of ordering crimes.

Brazilian soldiers spread out in Salvador to prevent further violence, patrolling highways and the city's renowned beaches.

One group of strikers had reportedly hunkered down in a section of Salvador's legislature after Wagner rejected an amnesty request.

"The government knows that 99 percent of us are armed. If they try to evict us there will be a bloodbath," an unidentified police officer told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Local residents were fearful.

"For the last two days I have not left my apartment," Italian businessman Marco Baghin told reporters. "It made no sense to risk being attacked or robbed."

Crime fears were having a dire economic affect.

Pedro Galvao, president of the Association of Travel Agencies of Bahia, told Brazil's O Globo newspaper that 10 percent of tourists had already canceled their air and hotel reservations for the Carnival.

Some 10,000 police officers, or one third of the Bahia police force, were on strike, demanding a 50 percent pay raise, better work conditions, and no retaliation, the state Public Safety Department said.

Strikers claim that 70 percent of the police force has joined the strike.

Bahia police also went on strike in 2001 for one week demanding a pay raise. The average wage for a state officer is about $867 a month.

by Jailan Zayan © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Feb 5, 2012