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Brazil Threatens Striking Police With Prosecution As Death Toll Tops 120

Brazil Threatens Striking Police With Prosecution As Death Toll Tops 120
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Limited protests by police in nearby Rio de Janeiro alarmed many residents of the metropolitan area of 12 million people, many of whom live in fear of...

Authorities in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo threatened striking police officers with criminal charges on Friday as the federal government sent in more troops in a bid to end a week of violent anarchy that has left more than 120 people dead. Espirito Santo is one of several Brazilian states grappling with a budget crisis that is crippling essential public services for millions of citizens. The police strike during the past week, over pay, has left a security vacuum and led to rampant assaults, heists and looting, often in broad daylight.

Limited protests by police in nearby Rio de Janeiro alarmed many residents of the metropolitan area of 12 million people, many of whom live in fear of violence between rival drug gangs and other criminals. Some mayors in Rio de Janeiro state even announced plans to help make up for unpaid police salaries by using city finances to cover the state's shortfalls.

In Espirito Santo, a spokesman for a local police union said the death toll from a week of unrest had risen to 122. State officials have not officially confirmed the toll, but have said many of those killed are believed to come from competing gangs.

If accurate, the toll would be more than six times the average daily homicide rate in the state last year.

President Michel Temer's government said late on Thursday that hundreds more soldiers and federal police would be sent in to help stem the chaos, focussed mostly in the metropolitan region of Vitoria, the state capital.

After an initial deployment of 1,200 troops in recent days, as many as 3,000 would be there by the weekend, the defence ministry said.

State officials said on Friday that more than 700 striking state officers, who in Brazil are organised with military-style ranks and rules, would be charged with rebellion.

Wives and family members who have blockaded police stations could also face fines and other penalties, they said.

"We will not be weak," said Andre Garcia, the secretary. "We will ensure that the rule of law is preserved."

SCHOOLS, SHOPS SHUT


Local officials have closed schools, clinics and public transportation, while shops and other businesses have remained shuttered, causing about $30 million in losses, according to a state retail association.

Meanwhile, in Rio, where the state government has been struggling to pay salaries, family members of some officers early on Friday blocked the entrance to a handful of local police stations in an effort to keep squad members from patrolling.

The tactic, which on a much larger scale has paralysed Espirito Santo, affected just a few districts. By Friday afternoon, no major problems had been reported.

The mayor of Niteroi, located across a long bay from state capital Rio, said his city would make a one-time payment of 3,500 reais ($1129) to police working there. The city of Macae, near Rio's offshore oil fields, said it would help cover the cost of a paycheck from last year that the state still owes.

State police officials, who said they detained one Rio officer for encouraging a strike online, said that 95 percent of the force was working.

The department tweeted photographs of patrol cars and officers at their posts across the city, Brazil's most popular destination for foreign tourists and famed around the world for its colourful Carnival celebration.

Social networks and messaging platforms in Rio have buzzed in recent days with rumours of a pending police shutdown, as Carnival looms at the end of the month. However, officials have said they do not expect a full-fledged strike.

In addition to late pay and budget cutbacks that have curtailed their ability to buy basic supplies, Rio's police have recently been clashing with protesters demonstrating against a push by the state government to cut costs and sell state assets, including the local water utility.

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