Thousands of troops deployed in bid to calm Brazilian tensions

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The Independent US

Beset by a wave of economic, political and social strife that has dragged his popularity to an unprecedented low, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has turned to the military to help him cool unrest in the country's hotspots

Beset by a wave of economic, political and social strife that has dragged his popularity to an unprecedented low, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has turned to the military to help him cool unrest in two of the country's hotspots; the slums of Rio de Janeiro and an Amazonian reservation.

Lula, as he is known to all, has sent 350 troops and federal police officers to the Roosevelt Indian reservation in the Amazonian state of Rondonia, where clashes between diamond miners and Cinta Larga Indians last month left at least 29 people dead.

A judge in the area told the local congress on Wednesday that up to 100 more miners had been buried in clandestine graves and troops were flying over the reservation and manning checkpoints around it to stop non-indigenous people from getting in.

Troops are also preparing to dig in at Rocinha, the Rio slum where battles between rival drug lords have killed at least 12 people and left parts of the city in panic. Officers said the army would deploy 4,000 troops there next week in an attempt to prevent more gun battlesin the shanty town overlooking some of Rio's richest neighbourhoods and which police say takes in up to $15m (£8.36m) in drug money every month. The decision to send in the military comes as Lula faces an electorate increasingly anxious for answers. Elected in October 2002 after promising to bring about widespread change, Lula has so far struggled to do anything other than stabilise the shaky economy. His approval rating has fallen to 28 per cent from 51 per cent this time last year, according to a recent poll. "This is the worst moment of his government so far," said Walder de Goes, a political consultant in the capital, Brasilia. "The government is disorientated."

Lula's problems began in February, when an assistant to Jose Dirceu, his righthand man and one of the most powerful men in Brasilia, was caught soliciting bribes allegedly used for the election campaigns of Lula's PT (Workers' Party).

Although Dirceu was not personally accused of any wrongdoing, the allegations shook an administration that had always claimed to be clean and forced it to spend valuable time and effort defending itself from attacks.

The scandal visibly weakened Lula as pressure from landless peasants, striking federal employees and once supportive political allies also took its toll and turned the debate over his handling of the sluggish economy into more of an issue. Although he promised to reinvigorate the economy, and create 10 million jobs in the process, Lula has maintained his predecessor's fiscal caution, thus stifling growth. The economy shrank by 0.2 per cent last year and unemployment in Sao Paulo, the nation's industrial centre, rose to 20 per cent last month.

Although many of the problems are unrelated, the mounting criticism has put Lula on the back foot and forced him for the first time to try to scale back the expectations he did so much to raise. "Don't expect me to be more than a president," he told employees at a GM factory in Sao Paulo recently. "I don't have the power of God to perform miracles that some people think I should have."

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