August 7, 2006

Gang in Sao Paulo hits again

By Eduardo Lima

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Gang members torched buses
and attacked police posts, banks and other buildings in Sao
Paulo before dawn on Monday, leaving at least two dead and
three hurt in the latest flare-up of a violent crime wave that
has plagued Brazil's largest city for months.

Police and city officials said the attacks appeared to be
the work of a powerful organized crime group known as the First
Command of the Capital, or PCC, which has caused mayhem in and
around Sao Paulo in recent months. Sixty people were arrested
after a three-day wave of attacks in July.

The state's public security secretariat said police shot
and killed two suspects on Monday following the attacks
overnight. In all, it said 27 different targets were hit in and
around the city, South America's financial capital.

The most high-profile target was the state prosecutor's
building, whose entryway was destroyed by a homemade explosive.
Criminals also hurled explosives at the state's finance
department, shattering windows.

Around the city, gunmen fired shots at three police posts
and torched at least 11 buses and two patrol cars. Banks, gas
stations and supermarkets were also targeted, leaving three
people injured, a fire department spokesman said.

Two bus companies in Sao Paulo and one in the nearby city
of Jundiai refused to deploy their fleets on Monday for fear
they would be targets of further attacks.


The governor of Sao Paulo state, Claudio Lembo, said police
were investigating and urged citizens to remain calm.

"We had some situations that are very symbolic, with an
attack on a public institution," he told reporters, referring
to the state prosecutor's building.

The unrest marks the third time in four months that the PCC
has terrorized Sao Paulo. In May, nearly 200 people were killed
in the police clashes with the PCC in the worst wave of
violence in the city's history.

The PCC struck again in July, unleashing more than 120
attacks over a three-day span that left seven dead. In
response, the federal government pledged $46 million for Sao
Paulo to buy intelligence equipment and build more prisons.

The violence has raised doubts about the state government's
ability to assert control over its overcrowded prison system,
where jailed gang leaders use smuggled cell phones to give
orders to subordinates on the outside.

The attacks have also helped make violent crime a top theme
in this year's election campaign. President Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, who is up for re-election in the October 1 vote, has
offered to send troops to Sao Paulo to quell the violence.

But Lembo, who hails from a rival political party, has
declined the offer. He was set to meet Justice Minister Marcio
Thomaz Bastos later on Monday to discuss the situation.

(Additional reporting by Fernanda Ezabella and Alice