Brazil: Police in Bahia end strike before carnival
Sao Paulo: Police in Brazil's Bahia state voted on Saturday to end a strike that unleashed a crime wave claiming more than 150 lives, raising hopes for peaceful carnival celebrations but leaving concerns about security ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
The last holdouts among Bahia's military police agreed to give up their walkout, state spokesman Robinson Almeida said, after 11 days of looting, assaults and vandalism in Brazil's third-largest city.
Fears of the violence spreading also eased in Rio de Janeiro after a police strike there showed signs of flagging in its second day. Rio's civil police, one branch of striking security forces, agreed on Saturday to suspend their walkout, according to state news service Agencia Brasil.
The news brought relief just one week before Rio's famous carnival celebrations and allowed for a peaceful start to hundreds of the city's informal street parades, known as blocos. As many as 850,000 tourists are expected to hit the beaches and palm-tree lined promenades of Brazil's second-biggest city for the festivities, which officially run from February 17 to February 22.
Still, the episode renews concerns that Brazil, eager to show off its growing prosperity during the World Cup two years from now, is ill-equipped to provide the security needed in the 12 cities selected as venues for the soccer games, including Rio and Salvador. Rio will also play host to the 2016 Olympics.
Determined to avoid a repeat of the chaos in Salvador, Rio's senior police officials reacted swiftly to the declaration of a walkout on Friday, detaining dozens of striking workers and charging them with disobedience.
Authorities were also ready with emergency plans to deploy federal troops in Rio and across the country amid calls for nationwide protests by police officers demanding higher salaries. President Dilma Rousseff last week sent more than 4,000 troops to Salvador to restore order amid the strike there.
In Bahia, roughly 6,000 officers, about a fifth of the state's overall police force, have taken part. Out of Rio's 70,000-strong force, which also includes firemen and state prison guards, only about 3,000 assembled in the city's colonial centre late Thursday in an initial protest to launch the strike.
For Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner, a star of Brazil's ruling Workers' Party and a key ally of President Dilma Rousseff, the strike has led to marathon negotiations with the striking police, who say they are underpaid and overburdened by the rising crime.
The governor already agreed to a 6.5 percent salary increase for the police but has refused to grant an amnesty for striking workers who have committed crimes.
Travel businesses, meanwhile, suffered the strike's impact during what should be a peak time for revenues. Local tourism officials said as many as 10 percent of unpaid reservations for carnival and beyond were cancelled in recent days.
Late last week, the US embassy in Brazil advised Americans to "consider delaying any non-essential travel" to Bahia "until the security conditions have stabilised”.