August 7, 2006

Gang stirs mayhem in Sao Paulo with night of attacks

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 police said it shot and killed two suspects on Monday
and arrested a further 12 following the attacks overnight. In
all, it said 93 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 or fired shots at 11 banks, 12
gas stations, as well as police stations and supermarkets. They
also torched 22 buses and two patrol cars. Three people were
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.

The unrest marks the third time in four months that the PCC
has terrorized Sao Paulo. In May, nearly 200 people were killed
in 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 said federal troops should be sent to
the country's borders to prevent the entry of contraband arms
that fuel violent crime.

Geraldo Alckmin, Lembo's predecessor and now the
opposition's leading presidential candidate, said he suspected
the attacks could have political motives. "It's strange that
this happens at election time. Obviously it's to create panic
and headlines, and make the (state) government back down,"
Alckmin said.

(Additional reporting by Fernanda Ezabella, Alice Assuncao,
and Rodrigo Gaier)