August 13, 2006

Brazilian gang kidnaps two journalists

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - A powerful criminal gang that
has terrorized Brazil's largest state of Sao Paulo kidnapped
two Brazilian television journalists, police and a TV station
said on Sunday.

Guilherme Portanova, a reporter for TV Globo, and his
assistant, Alexandre Coelho Calado, were abducted by three
armed men on Saturday at a bakery near the station's studio in
Sao Paulo, Globo said in a statement.

Calado was later released in front of the studio with a
recording that his kidnappers demanded be aired by Globo,
Brazil's most influential TV network.

Portanova, who frequently covers the crime beat, has not
been released.

On the tape, which Globo aired overnight, a member of the
prison gang known as the First Command of the Capital, or PCC
by its Portuguese initials, criticized the dire conditions of
Brazil's prison system.

"We want a prison system with humane conditions, not a
bankrupt, inhumane system in which we are subjected to
innumerous humiliations and beatings," the statement read. "The
Brazilian penal system is, in reality, a true human dump, where
human beings are thrown as if they were animals."

The kidnappings capped a week of violence in which the PCC
attacked police and torched buses, banks and government
buildings in cities around the state. At least six suspects
have been killed by police and at least 28 have been arrested
since the attacks began last Sunday.

The latest unrest marks the third wave of PCC violence in
four months in and around Sao Paulo, South America's financial

The PCC, which was born in Sao Paulo's overcrowded prison
system in 1993, called the latest attacks to demand furloughs
for this weekend's Father's Day observation. More than 10,000
inmates were released for the holiday, putting the state's
forces on alert.

The violence has raised doubts about the state government's
ability to control its prisons, where gang leaders frequently
orchestrate riots and use smuggled cell phones to give orders
to subordinates on the outside.

With Brazil's presidential election less than two months
away, the attacks have made violence a top campaign issue and
exposed a deep political rift between the state and federal

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is up for
re-election, has repeatedly offered to send in the army to help
quell the violence. But Sao Paulo state Gov. Claudio Lembo, a
member of a rival political party, has refused the offer.

(Additional reporting by Guido Nejamkis in Brasilia)