Report: 78 killed in police strike in Brazil state

February 5, 2012 - 5:05 PM

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Murder rates in the northeastern city of Salvador have more than doubled since the start of a police strike, media reports said Sunday, although they added that the situation in Brazil's third most populous city appears to be improving.

Salvador's A Tarde daily reported that 78 people have been murdered in and around Bahia state's capital city since Wednesday, when about a third of state police officers walked off the job, demanding pay raises and bonuses. Five people were killed early Sunday, including a 13-year-old girl, the report said.

The government news service Agencia Brasil has said the number of killings during the strike was more than double the number in the same period last year.

Many concerts and other events marking the run-up to Carnival were canceled Saturday night, and Brazilian television showed Salvador's normally bustling streets largely deserted. Globo television network also ran images of looted stores and the smashed-out facade of an area bank.

Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner accused some of the striking officers of being behind the violence, which he called a "bloodbath" allegedly aimed at instilling fear into the population. UOL Internet news portal and other media reported that one of the strikers was detained Sunday morning for allegedly organizing roving gangs and robbing police cars. Eleven other strikers are wanted on similar charges, the report said.

Still, the situation appeared to be improving on Sunday. About 2,000 Brazilian army soldiers and a contingent of federal police troops have been sent in to patrol Salvador, and G1, Globo TV's Internet portal, ran photos showing the city's beaches packed with weekend sunbathers.

Salvador is renown for its Carnival celebrations, and some commentators have voiced fears that this week's violence could scare away tourists — a major source of income in this city of 2.7 million.

The government has said that about 10,000 of Bahia 30,000 state police are on strike. Initially strikers were asking for six points, including pay raises and bonuses, but media reports Sunday said they'd scaled back their demands to just two — bonuses and amnesty from future reprisals for having taken part in the strike.