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Brazilian soldiers lay siege to striking police officers

The Americas Post - If this keeps up, Brazil may just need a new slogan for their flag.

Brazilian soldiers on Monday laid siege to hundreds of striking military police  in Salvador, trying to quell a protest that has triggered violence in a World Cup 2014 venue and damaged the country’s international image.

Bahia State authorities accused the striking police of being behind some of the 94 homicides recorded since the start of the protest on January 31, more than double the usual rate.

More than 3,200 soldiers were sent to Bahia to patrol the streets and stem the tide of violence, one of the largest militarizations in living memory in Brazil.

Army soldiers and armored vehicles surrounded the legislature building in Salvador de Bahia, where about 300 military police and some of their relatives are entrenched.

“We have two negotiating fronts, one in relation to unemployment of the assembly and the other in relation to the movement (strike),” Bahia communications secretary Robinson Almeida said.  “We hope the negotiations today bring positive results.”

The crisis exposed the risks of security in this nation with a booming economy  but serious social challenges.

Salvador, whose colonial center of cobbled streets and colorful facades is a UNESCO world heritage site, is one of the main tourist destinations in Brazil. Its carnival should attract thousands of visitors later this month.  The city of about 5 million will also be a venue of World Cup 2014.

The U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro issued a warning over the weekend, asking tourists not to travel to Bahia until safety conditions improve.  But tour operators say it is too early to estimate the economic impact of the strike.

“In the tourist spots things are normal, but we are concerned about the impact going forward,” said Maria Angela Ballalai de Carvalho, vice president of the Brazilian Association of Travel Agencies.

“If this lasts we may have cancellations and less tourists coming to the carnival (…) this can affect the country’s image,” she said.

The policemen on strike are demanding a wage increase of 30 percent. The government of Bahia offered an increase of 6.5 percent.

The governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, said he suspected that crimes were fueled by the strikers. “Their strategy is to create panic,” he told the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

Authorities issued arrest warrants for about 12 officers who lead the protest.