Sao Paulo death toll rises in war on organised crime

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am

The toll of dead rose in eerie silence in South America's largest city as police who lost 40 comrades in gang attacks killed 22 more suspected criminals, but said little about how they were doing it.

Killings overnight took the death toll to 155 since a wave of violence enveloped Sao Paulo last Friday, and came after officers shot 33 presumed gang members dead only a day earlier.

Authorities did not identify any of those that they killed, nor the circumstances of their deaths other than where they were killed, Sao Paulo's leading newspapers said. City police commander Elizeu Teixera Borges said the most recent violence was not caused by the gangs but by opportunists trying to exploit the chaos.

Rights activists feared innocent people may have been hurt in the strikes by police enraged by a notorious gang's attacks on officers on the streets, at their stations, in homes and at after-work hangouts.

'The climate of terror can't be turned into carte blanche to kill,' said Ariel de Castro Alves, co-ordinator of Brazil's National Human Rights Movement.

President Luiz Ignacio 'Lula' da Silva said it appeared that order had been restored but the state of Sao Paulo had refused offers of help from the federal government.

Despite the easing of gang attacks, Sao Paulo residents said they were still scared, and many supported the police's aggressive response. Fernanda Lopes, a 19-year-old student, conceded that innocent people would probably die but said there was no other way to take strong action against the First Capital Command gang, which has at least 10,000 members and dominates Sao Paulo's lucrative drug trade.

'They all need to die,' she said. 'It may not be the best solution, but it's the only solution.'

Brazilian lawmakers decided to vote this week on 30 measures to increase security and reduce the influence of gang leaders who control their troops from behind bars.

The bills would let authorities keep gang leaders in solitary confinement for as long as two years - up from the current one year.

It would also fund a nationwide prison intelligence agency and require telephone service providers to block phone signals inside prisons. Gang leaders reportedly used smuggled mobile phones from prison to order the attacks.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press