May 16, 2006

Sao Paulo police say gangster war quelled

By Terry Wade

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Police killed more than 70
gang members and arrested 113 in Sao Paulo, officials said on
Tuesday, quelling a campaign of violence that had terrorized
Brazil's business capital since Friday.

Life in Sao Paulo, the world's third-largest city, slowly
returned to normal after the violence caused citizens to
shutter shops and close offices, schools and restaurants.

"We had tough moments but brave policemen confronted fear
and terror," state military police commander Col. Elizeu Eclair
Teixeira Borges told a news conference. "The hunt continues. We
dominated, but despite the positive result, yes, we've still
got work to do."

Uprisings in about 70 Sao Paulo state prisons linked to the
gang offensive also ended on Monday night and about 200
hostages were freed, the authorities said.

The violence broke out on Friday in retaliation for the
transfer of jailed crime bosses and other gang members to a
remote prison. Gunmen launched about 250 attacks on police
posts, vehicles and off-duty policemen across the city and
elsewhere in the state. City buses were also set ablaze.

Although violent crime is rampant in Sao Paulo, the scale
of the gang violence was unprecedented. At least 115 people
were killed, including 32 police and civil guards, eight prison
guards and four civilians, State Civil Police Chief Marco
Antonio Desgualdo said.

Most of the policemen were killed on Friday and Saturday.
Of the 71 gang members killed, 33 were shot dead on Monday
night and Tuesday morning as special police units hunted them
down in slums and working-class districts of the city.

Nine gangsters were reported wounded, raising human rights
groups' concerns that police operate a shoot-to-kill policy.


A coordinator with Global Justice human rights group,
Marcelo Freixo, told Reuters: "Violent reaction does not help
to reduce crime, it only makes sure that everything will remain
out of control as it is now."

Both police commanders denied newspaper reports that a
truce was negotiated with leaders of the organized crime gang
behind the violence, the First Command of the Capital, or PCC.

"There is no accord," Desgualdo said. "They prodded the
jaguar with a short stick, they got trouble."

Eclair said the police relied on an intelligence-gathering
network to find their targets.

The gang offensive highlighted a number of pressing social
problems in Brazil, from poverty-fueled crime to weak judicial
and police systems and overcrowded prisons.

The precarious security situation in cities like Sao Paulo
and Rio de Janeiro is likely to be a key issue in the
presidential election in October.

The main opposition candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, was Sao
Paulo state governor before resigning to run for the
presidency. State leaders, who belong to the opposition party,
rejected a federal government offer to send troops to the city.

In Sao Paulo, a cosmopolitan city of 20 million, buses
resumed operation on Tuesday but were escorted by police.

"For the time being it's normal. People are still scared,
some buses are empty, but all seems calm," said Carlos Antonio
de Moura, 51, a worker in a pharmaceutical factory.

The violence was triggered by the transfer of PCC chieftain
Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, nicknamed Marcola, and about
750 other prisoners to a remote high-security penitentiary.

Rioting prisoners were also protesting harsh conditions in
the jails, including periods of solitary confinement and
limited time for exercise.

Jailed crime bosses are known to run outside operations by
using smuggled cell phones.

Desgualdo mocked reported demands by the prisoners for new
televisions to watch the upcoming football World Cup.

"Plasma television? The only plasma I know is blood," he