70 Die in 4 Days of Violence in Brazil

The Associated Press
Monday, May 15, 2006; 10:42 AM

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Prison riots and attacks on police by a criminal gang extended into Monday, raising the reported death toll to 70 in four days of violence that has started to choke normal life in South America's largest city.

Brazilian media reported that the federal government was preparing to send troops to enforce control of Sao Paulo.

Officials said Sunday the death toll had reached at least 52 after at least 100 separate attacks since Friday, but the Globo TV network reported that additional overnight attacks had raised the toll to more than 70.

Most of those dead were reported to be police officers targeted by a powerful criminal gang protesting the prison transfer of some of its leaders. Officials said they had arrested at least 72 suspects.

Attacks on public buses prompted many companies to halt service, stranding thousands of people trying to reach work Monday.

Video on TV showed the buses engulfed in flames, while Folha Online news service said passengers were ordered out of the vehicles before bandits set them ablaze.

Officers in bulletproof vests set up checkpoints to search vehicles, and barriers were placed in front of many police stations.

Assailants attacked patrol cars, bars where off-duty policemen gather, a courthouse and a highway police outpost. Local media reported that the assailants used guns, shotguns, grenades, machine guns and homemade bombs.

Witnesses to the killing of police officer Jose Antonio Martinez told Folha Online that two men wearing masks approached as the officer was dining with his wife, shot him several times in the head, and ran. His wife was unhurt.

"We can't let this pass," Nilo Faria Hellmeister, a police officer and friend of Martinez, told the news service.

A few miles away, witnesses said two groups of men bearing large-caliber weapons appeared in front of a fire station and began shooting at random, killing a firefighter.

Dozens of new prison rebellions also broke out, with 41 riots under way across Sao Paulo state Sunday. Inmates held more than 229 prison guards hostage.

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