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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gangsters resume attacks on Brazil police, 5 dead

SAO PAULO, Brazil, July 12 (Reuters) - Police stations and bank branches were riddled with bullets and dozens of buses firebombed in Sao Paulo state overnight, leaving five people dead, in what police said on Wednesday was a new round of attacks ordered by a powerful prison gang.

Police said the violence, which started late Tuesday and continued until early Wednesday, left one police officer and his sister dead in Sao Paulo city, Brazil's financial capital. Three security guards were also gunned down in the nearby coastal town of Guaruja.

Police had previously said that the adult son of a prison guard in Sao Paulo had been murdered by the gang but said on Wednesday that his killing was unrelated.

The bloodshed was the latest chapter in a tense battle between security forces and a notorious criminal gang known as the First Command of the Capital, or PCC, which police said was behind the attacks.

The state government has scrambled to prevent a repeat of the chaos that gripped the city two months ago. In May, almost 200 people were killed in the worst wave of gang violence to date in Sao Paulo, essentially bringing South America's largest city to a halt for two days. Police say the PCC went on the murderous spree to protest the transfer of gang leaders to a maximum-security prison.

The latest attacks may also have been prompted by rumors of the eventual transfer of more gang leaders to a new federal prison in the southern state of Parana, police said.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered to send troops to Sao Paulo to help quell the violence, but so far the state's governor, Claudio Lembo, has declined to accept.

The president offered federal help again on Wednesday, telling reporters in the northeastern city of Salvador that "they (the criminals) are terrorizing Sao Paulo and we have to take a stand."

But Lembo, who hails from a rival political party, turned down the offer once more.

"Police enforcements are not opportune nor necessary because the Sao Paulo police force is the biggest and best-equipped ... in the country," he said in a statement.

The recent violence in Sao Paulo has highlighted the deep social problems afflicting Brazil, a country with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the world.

It has also put crime high on the agenda in an election year and, analysts say, could hurt the leading opposition candidate's chances to unseat Lula in the October vote.

Lula's main rival is Geraldo Alckmin, who relinquished his post as Sao Paulo's governor to Lembo in March to focus on his bid for the presidency. Alckmin suffered in the polls immediately after the violence in May, in part because many voters associated the attacks with his administration.
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