SALVADOR DE BAHIA, Brazil – Police strikers occupying the state legislature in the Brazilian city of Salvador vowed on Monday to resist if troops try to flush them out amid a tense stand-off between the security forces.
The strike, which began six days ago, cleared the way for a wave of crime including at least 87 murders in and around Salvador which will be a host city in the 2014 soccer World Cup, and where major Carnival celebrations are set to begin in two weeks.
"We are holding talks to end the protest. The police strikers are demanding amnesty but the government can't stop a judicial decision which orders the capture" of the strike leaders, Robinson Almeida, a spokesman for the Bahia state secretariat, said.
The strikers are also demanding higher pay and better working conditions.
Earlier on Monday, strike leader Marcos Prisco vowed "to resist," warning that "if the army storms the building, there could be a catastrophe," according to the Globo website G1.
Prisco said nearly 4,000 people – striking police and their families, including 300 children – were inside the legislature.
In a telephone interview later in the day, the 42-year-old labour leader said he expected the stand-off to "end up in negotiations."
"The government wants my head. But I don't understand why," he said, adding that the protest was "peaceful."
"The strike is affecting the entire state, but in Salvador, the military deployment is bigger because they want Prisco's head," said striking policeman Ricardo Amando by telephone.
"We have some food, water and milk. We have light thanks to a generator which we turn off during the day," he added, saying the military "could invade tonight."
"If they have weapons, we have some too," he warned.
More than 1,000 soldiers and police on Monday surrounded the legislative assembly occupied by hundreds of strikers and their families, Lieutenant-Colonel Marcio Cunha, an army spokesman, said.
Outside the legislature building, some 300 supporters of the strikers held hands and formed a giant circle to say "Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be" prayers.
"We are fighting for our rights. If they want war, they will have war. Our fight is against the government," Eduardo Nascimento, a 56-year-old military policeman, said.
A statement by the US embassy in Brazil urged its nationals to monitor security conditions "and to consider delaying any non-essential travel to those areas until the security conditions have stabilised."
State officials reported 87 dead over the past six days, mostly in criminal violence in outlying poor suburbs, more than twice the number for the same period last year. Assaults and store lootings also increased. AFP