AFP/Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro’s police went into partial shutdown yesterday when relatives of officers blockaded several stations to demand back pay, sparking fears that Brazil’s second biggest city could descend into unrest.
Across most of the sprawling city, where violent crime is on the rise, police deployed normally.
But at a handful of stations, including the elite Shock Battalion, protesting officers’ wives said they had blocked the main entrance since the early hours.
“We came at 4am and since then not a single car has been able to come out,” said the leader of the group of half a dozen women, who said she was a police investigator and that her husband served in the Shock Battalion.
Like other protesters she declined to give her name.
The gates of the battalion’s base were closed and the women only allowed people who were not in uniform to leave — an order that police officers appeared to comply with willingly, even agreeing to open their bags for inspection to prove they were not carrying their uniforms.
The action, repeated in at least four other locations in Rio, according to Brazilian media, was copied from neighbouring Espirito Santo state where relatives of officers have blockaded every police station for a week to back demands for back pay and better work conditions.
In Brazil the street police, who are classified as military, are not allowed to strike.
Having relatives block stations, with officers inside making no attempt to break through, is a tactic to get around that law.
At approximately 20 more Rio police stations, relatives held peaceful protests, without impeding police traffic, Globo television reported.
In Espirito Santo, the total police paralysis has led to chaos, with more than 120 people reportedly murdered in a week, shops looted and tension still high despite the arrival of regular army soldiers to patrol the streets.
Rio de Janeiro has been on alert for days amid rumours that the police, who have not been paid their last 2016 salary or bonuses stretching back to the Olympics in August, would follow suit.
Messages widely shared on social media had warned parents to keep their children out of school and to stay indoors.
There was no sign of trouble early yesterday and police spokesman Major Ivan Blaz told journalists outside another blockaded station that “95%” of officers were working as normal.
“The police prepared thoroughly for this moment,” he said, asking officers to think twice about joining the shutdown and leaving the streets unguarded.
“We know the dissatisfaction in our ranks is very deep,” he said. “But the impact of police being absent falls most of all on the poorest.”
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