Police strike brings chaos to Brazil

Officers tell tourists to stay away from famous carnival as walkout turns violent

Rio

Brazil's armed forces are on standby to take over in Rio de Janeiro after police went on strike just days before the start of the city's famous carnival.

The stand-off over salaries and working conditions follows 11 days of violent clashes in Salvador, the capital of the north-eastern state of Bahia, between striking officers and federal authorities brought in to restore order.

Protesting police and firefighters cried: "Carnival is over! Carnival is over!" in Salvador and the US warned tourists to stay away. It is feared the unrest could spread across the country now that Rio's force has also walked out.

About 2,000 police and firefighters gathered noisily but peacefully in Rio's city centre yesterday and voted to strike. Many military police in Rio are working long hours in dangerous conditions to rid the city's shanty towns, or favelas, of armed drug gangs long hours in dangerous conditions.

Officially, the carnival starts on 16 February, though many street parties have already begun. The expected arrival of millions of tourists would pose a public security challenge even with a fully operational police force.

In Salvador, a police salary starts at 1,900 Brazilian reals (£700) a month, but in Rio wages can be as little as 1,030 reals, despite a high cost of living. The city council has voted to increase police salaries by up to 39 per cent, but the rise will not take effect until next year and officers want it sooner.

President Dilma Rouseff condemned acts of vandalism by some police in Salvador, as it emerged that 11 arrest warrants had been issued for those suspected of starting the new wave of walkouts in Rio. A wiretap authorised by the courts appeared to show a Salvador firefighter and a left-wing Rio congresswoman discussing the need to keep the strike going in Bahia, so as to incite similar protests in other cities, including Rio de Janeiro and potentially São Paulo. When the firefighter arrived in Rio on Wednesday he was jailed under a military law, as judges are disputing whether strikes by police forces or firefighters are legal.

"If police and firefighters are not allowed by law to strike, it makes it difficult for them to get improvements to their pay and conditions," said Paulo Storani, a former special forces co-ordinator and public security expert. "The salary is so low in Rio that many police take second jobs, often better paid. They don't get a chance to rest, and the resulting physical and emotional stress can erupt into violence."

Those in Salvador describe a climate of fear, with hundreds of cars robbed, buses set on fire, shops destroyed and people afraid to leave their homes.

The number of murders has also doubled compared with the same period last year. Police have been blamed for many acts of violence, to demonstrate to the authorities that the city will grind to a halt without effective policing.

João Faria, an engineer, was in Salvador when suspected striking police officers stopped the bus he was on. "About four men with their faces covered with T-shirts, waving guns, stopped the bus. They ordered it to be moved to the middle of the street, stopping all the traffic. When I saw the gun, I thought I was going to get shot. People were very frightened," he said. "It took me three hours to get away."

Mr Storani warned: "What has happened in Salvador could happen in Rio if the police stop working. Responsible police will still go to work because they don't want to break the law. But until the Brazilian people demand change, the protests will continue and the public will not get the protection it deserves."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...