Demonstrators supporting the policemen who have been on strike for six days in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia clashed briefly Monday with soldiers posted around the regional parliament in Salvador, which is occupied by disgruntled cops.
The protesters, mostly relatives of the striking cops, tried to keep the military from completely cordoning off the Regional Legislative Assembly this morning, the Bahia state government said.
The soldiers had to shoot rubber bullets in the air and push the demonstrators back in order to move forward.
The demonstrators fear that the close to 600 troops and 40 Federal Police agents surrounding the assembly are trying to occupy the building to arrest the organizers of the strike, which has been declared illegal by the courts.
The state government said the line of soldiers is there to guarantee the free flow of traffic in downtown Salvador and to facilitate the seizure of 11 strike leaders who have warrants out for their arrest.
The cops on strike, who kicked off the protest last Tuesday with demands for a pay raise of close to 30 percent plus better working conditions, repeated Sunday their decision to continue the walkout until the Bahia administration agrees to negotiate.
The strike continued despite the authorities’ order that the officers go back to work.
Bahia has seen 87 murders since the strike began, almost double the usual number for the period, as well as looting, robberies and acts of vandalism that have locals terrorized and business at a standstill.
Gov. Jacques Wagner blamed much of the lawlessness on the police themselves and said he will not discuss their demands until they’re back on the job.
Wagner was backed by federal Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardoso, who visited Salvador on Saturday and warned that the leaders of the movement could be arrested for leading a protest that he considered “unacceptable.”
Bahia security has been bolstered with close to 3,000 army troops and National Security Force agents ordered in from other states.
The strike worries the authorities not only because of the rampant insecurity in the streets, but also for the possible economic impact it could have on Salvador, with thousands of tourists set to arrive for Carnival two weeks from now.
The Carnival festivities in the Bahia capital are among the most massively attended in all Brazil.