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Brazil gang strikes a 3rd night in wave of terror

A powerful crime gang torched courthouses and threw small bombs at police stations for the third straight night in Brazil’s richest state of Sao Paulo Wednesday, and the federal government offered to send in the army to quell the violence.
/ Source: Reuters

A powerful crime gang torched courthouses and threw small bombs at police stations for the third straight night in Brazil’s richest state of Sao Paulo Wednesday, and the federal government offered to send in the army to quell the violence.

Police said gang members also attacked bank branches, burned buses or were caught with dynamite in at least five cities around the state. Four suspects were arrested.

There was less violence than in the two previous nights. Members of the First Command of the Capital gang attacked almost 100 targets in and around Sao Paulo, South America’s financial capital, late Sunday and early Monday. Police have killed at least half a dozen suspects.

The unrest marks the third time in four months that the powerful organized crime group, known by its Portuguese acronym PCC, has stirred mayhem in the state.

The PCC called the latest round of attacks to demand prison furloughs for this weekend’s Fathers Day observation. Previous attacks protested pending transfers of PCC kingpins outside of Sao Paulo.

‘There have been mistakes’
Polls show two-thirds of Sao Paulo state residents favor using the army to stop the attacks but state Gov. Claudio Lembo, a political rival of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, refused the federal government’s offer to send in troops.

The deep political rift has made violence a top campaign issue as Lula runs for re-election in October’s election.

Lula’s office said Wednesday that he will address cadets at the army’s southeastern command center in Sao Paulo Friday. The speech to cadets would help Lula’s law-and-order image if troops are deployed, the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper said Wednesday, quoting unnamed presidential aides.

Lula blamed the state government on Wednesday for failing to rein in the PCC.

“These people have been in charge of Sao Paulo’s security for years and should be more humble to admit that there have been mistakes,” he said in a radio interview.

Violence continues from May, July
The violence has rekindled a public debate about the dire conditions of Sao Paulo’s prison system, where jailed gang leaders frequently orchestrate riots and use smuggled cell phones to give orders to subordinates on the outside.

In May, almost 200 people were killed in police clashes with the PCC in the worst wave of urban violence ever to hit Sao Paulo. The gang struck again in July, unleashing more than 120 attacks over a three-day span that ended with seven deaths and 60 arrests.

After July’s attacks, Brazil’s federal government pledged $46 million in aid for Sao Paulo to buy new intelligence equipment and build more prisons.

But on Monday the state’s combative security secretary, Saulo de Castro Abreu, called the offer an empty promise and suggested the federal government was trying to manipulate the crisis to strengthen Lula’s re-election bid.