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Sao Paulo Murders Mount as Gangs Unleash Violence

More than 30 people were killed in greater Sao Paulo over the weekend amid police battles with criminal gangs, deepening a monthlong wave of violence that has gripped South America’s largest city and Brazil’s business hub.

Nearly 200 people have been murdered in 2 1/2 weeks in the city of 18 million inhabitants, Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported today. Ninety policemen have been killed since the beginning of the year.

The crime spree represents a setback after a decade of security improvements that saw Sao Paulo’s homicide rate fall more than 78 percent, converting the city into one of Brazil’s safest. At the heart of the recent wave of violence is a coordinated campaign against the city’s newly-elected mayor by the First Command of the Capital, or PCC, the gang that dominates the city’s drug trade and prisons, crime experts said.

“The PCC is sending a political message to the new government: back off or we’ll kill more policemen,” Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, author of an annual publication on violence in Brazil and a researcher for the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, said by telephone from Recife. “There’s an open war between this group and the state. The population is frightened.”

Federal Aid

President Dilma Rousseff’s administration last week pledged additional federal aid, including increased intelligence and drug-combating operations, as well as heightened police controls at access points to Sao Paulo, as schools and stores were forced to close in some of the city’s northern neighborhoods because of violence. Fernando Haddad, a candidate for Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ Party, was elected mayor of Sao Paulo on Oct. 28.

The PCC in 2006 spearheaded a wave of attacks on police stations and buses in Sao Paulo, paralyzing parts of the city that has a gross domestic product roughly the size of Chile’s.

The homicide rate in Sao Paulo state fell to 10.1 per 100,000 inhabitants last year from 35.3 per 100,000 in 1999, according to the website of the state’s public security secretary.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, where authorities have won praise for efforts to pacify shantytowns once controlled by drug gangs, the rate was 24.9 per 100,000. This year through September, murders in Sao Paulo have risen to 3,536 from 3,225, whereas in killings in Rio have fallen to 3,028 from 3,227.

Crime has fallen in Brazil in tandem with economic growth that averaged 3.8 percent a year over the past decade and expanded social welfare policies that helped pull nearly 40 million people out of poverty.

Still, the country remains one of the world’s most-violent, with an average homicide rate over the past decade has remained little changed at 26 per 100,000 inhabitants, Waiselfiz said.

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