May 19, 2006

Calm night for Sao Paulo after bloody week: police

By Alice Assuncao

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's business capital Sao
Paulo passed its first quiet night after a week of violence
between police and gangsters, officials said on Friday, but
calls grew for an investigation into the bloody police response
to the attacks.

State military police commander Col. Elizeu Eclair assured
Sao Paulo residents the situation had returned to normal.

"I say to our people, the police are still in the streets,
they can go out and have fun this weekend," Eclair said on
Globo television.

"All the indications are it will be a quite weekend."

Sao Paulo city and state, the financial and industrial
powerhouse of Latin America's largest country, was rocked in
the past week by the worst wave of crime-related violence in
its history.

Brazil's most powerful criminal gang, the First Command of
the Capital, killed about 30 policeman in attacks on police
posts, vehicles and off-duty officers in an offensive launched
in retaliation for the transfer of jailed gang leaders and
members to a remote high-security prison.

Dozens of buses also were set ablaze, causing panic and
chaos in Sao Paulo, the world's third largest metropolis with a
population of 20 million.

While violent crime is fact of life in Brazilian cities,
the gangster offensive highlighted the power and efficient
organization of big criminal gangs, which are engaged in drug
trafficking, kidnapping and armed robberies.

The State Security Secretariat said no new attacks were
reported Thursday night other than "routine incidents" in a
city where crime is rife at the best of times. Buses also were
running normally for the first time in days.


The official death toll on Friday stood at 152. The figure
included 107 suspected gangsters -- most of them killed in
police sweeps through poor districts of the city after the
brunt of the gangster attacks.

Eclair and other officials have denied police carried out a
policy of executions in revenge for the deaths of their
colleagues. But calls were growing within Brazil and from
international organizations for an investigation into all the

"Heinous attacks on police and civilians cannot justify
summary executions by police," Paulo Mesquita, Brazil
researcher for the Washington-based Human Rights Watch, said in
said in a statement.

Brazilian newspapers have described the police response as
"massacres" and reported that visits to mortuaries showed many
of the victims were shot in the head.

"It's still too early to say for sure if the use of force
was exaggerated but given the history of our police, it would
not be a surprise if innocent people were also brutally
assassinated," said Carlos Cardoso, human rights advisor in the
Sao Paulo state government.

The gangsters' attacks exposed the weakness of Brazil's
judicial system and security structure. Congress is working on
a package of reforms for stricter regulations in notorious
Brazil's prisons, where jailed gang bosses continue to run
outside operations.

Sao Paulo's state governor, Claudio Lembo, said on Thursday
the violence should serve as a warning to the richer classes
that Brazil's deep social inequalities were tearing it apart.

But with a presidential election due in October,
politicians from rival parties are busy blaming each other's
failed policies for the explosion of the past week.