Brazil sends troops to state torn by violence due to police strike

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s president on Monday ordered 200 troops to the southeastern state of Espirito Santo, where a police strike in recent days sparked a wave of violence including what is already believed to be dozens of murders.

A woman walks past by the entrance of an appliance store damaged after gang attacks in Vitoria, Espirito Santo state, Brazil February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Gabriel Lordello

The law enforcement stoppage in a state struggling with a budget shortfall is the latest example of how depleted public finances, amid Brazil’s worst recession on record, are crippling even basic health services, education and security in some states.

The crime surge in Espirito Santo, a small coastal state just north of Rio de Janeiro, began over the weekend, after police on Friday stopped work because of the pay dispute.

Since then, local media and citizens with cell phone videos have broadcast scenes of chaos as thieves and other criminals appear to run rampant, particularly in state capital Vitoria and its suburbs, home to about 2 million people.

Local media reported that as many as 50 people have died during the period, an unusually high death toll for the state in such a short period. But a state security spokesman said the government has not been able to make an official tally.

Schools in the area closed, as did public health clinics and other local offices. State officials, who argue they have no resources to raise wages, have already replaced the police commander and say they will not renew negotiations with officers until they return to work.

“There is no way we can accept this attitude, leaving the population deprived of an essential service like public security,” Cesar Colnago, the state’s governor, told reporters after announcing the federal aid.

President Michel Temer, who also authorized the use of federal troops to quell uprisings in prisons last month that led to around 140 deaths in various states, dispatched the country’s defense minister to Espirito Santo on Monday.

The state security spokesman said federal troops were expected to arrive by Tuesday.

Several other Brazilian states are grappling with a financial crisis. In Rio de Janeiro, the state government has been struggling to pay expenses including salaries of police, teachers and doctors and basic supplies for schools and hospitals.

Reporting by Paulo Prada Editing by W Simon