Army on stand-by as police strike threatens Rio Carnival


The streets of Rio de Janeiro were calm today, just hours after police officers went on strike and a week before glittering Carnival celebrations that typically draw 800,000 tourists were due to start.

Authorities said 14,000 army soldiers stood at the ready to patrol Rio's streets, but as yet their patrols were not needed.

How the city handles the crisis this week could have international repercussions, as Rio prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

"The situation is normal, we've been monitoring all the units all morning," said police spokesman Frederico Caldas.

Caldas said as yet there were no major problems or clashes with the striking police and that "we will not accept any sort of action against discipline."

It was not immediate clear how many of the 58,000 police and firefighters in Rio were out on the strike. Union officials expected anywhere from 50% to 70% to join the strike.

The officers decided during a midnight rally to start the work stoppage, not content with legislative approval of a 39% pay rise to be staggered over this year and the next, along with a promise of more in 2014.

The increase was just half of what officers sought. They said their salaries have fallen far behind rising prices over the decades.

"We didn't want to strike," said Paulo Nascimento, a search and rescue firefighter. "We're putting this on Governor Sergio Cabral's conscience."

The decision to strike was made by thousands of officers and firefighters who massed in central Rio for a six-hour assembly that included fireworks, chants and speeches denouncing Rio's government.

Rio state police suffer high fatality rates as they battle powerful drug gangs and street crime. In 2010, 19 police officers were killed on the job, and 31 were killed in 2009, the latest police data show.