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52 dead in gang attacks on Brazil police stations

At least 52 people, including 35 cops, have been killed after organised gang attacks on police stations.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 10:34 IST

At least 52 people, including 35 police officers, have been killed after a second night of organized gang attacks on police stations across the south-eastern state of Sao Paulo, officials said Sunday.

The weekend onslaught against police stations and barracks has left 14 suspected attackers and three bystanders dead and another 53 people injured, including 39 police officers, six attackers and eight bystanders, they said.

Since late Friday over 100 attacks have been launched by the gang in Brazil's most populated state, in apparent reprisal for the transfer of jailed gangsters to a high-security prison, officials said.

At the same time, scores of people have been taken hostage in uprisings in at least 51 prisons of the state's 144 prisons.

The Sao Paulo prisons syndicate said about 242 hostages have been taken in the past 48 hours, including prison guards.

Police said they had put down some 16 prison disturbances and rescued about 85 people taken hostage in one of the state's worst outbreaks of civil unrest.

Sao Paulo state also has one of Brazil's highest prison populations, with some 125,000 inmates behind bars.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered Sao Paulo Governor Claudio Lembo federal help to restore order, but Lembo believes the situation is being brought under control and has so far declined any assistance, according to a CBN radio report.

Lula, who is currently attending a European-Latin American summit in Vienna, Austria, said Saturday that more social investment was needed to offset such violence.

Local news reports said a number of prisons have been closed to visitors Sunday, normally a day for families to visit jailed convicts.

The attacks were carried out by the powerful "First Capital Command", Sao Paulo's largest criminal gang.

The gang was apparently reacting to the transfer of 765 gang members from their current prisons to higher-security facilities.

The transferees included Marcos Wilian Herbas Camacho, aka Marcola, considered the gang's chief.

The gang was organized in penitentiaries in the 1990s and was responsible for uprisings in 20 prisons in February 2001.

In November 2003, they launched a series of attacks on security forces that left 11 officers and seven gang members dead.

They initiated a new round of violence at the beginning of this year. In January there were six attacks against police stations, leaving three officers dead.

On April 8 four more officers were killed in more attacks.

The group has taken advantage of factional divisions among Sao Paulo's gangs to methodically establish their power, said Emilio Henrique Dellazoppa, the director of a program studying violence at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

The First Capital Command "has the clear objective of challenging the state," Dellazoppa told AFP.

He said it was likely that the gangs had achieved a unified leadership and the violence show the weakness of the authorities.

"The attacks reveal the incapacity of the legitimate powers to prevent violence from becoming legitimate, in both the street and the prisons," he said.

Dellazoppa added that the prisons were now controlled by criminal organizations, and not by the state.

First Published: May 15, 2006 03:32 IST