Deaths form Gang Violence Shocks Brazil

More than 150 people have been killed in Brazil since gang violence erupted in Sao Paulo last week.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Police in Sao Paulo, Brazil, are on alert after an unprecedented number of assaults.

An organized criminal network has launched a series of attacks on police stations throughout Sao Paulo state, while inmates in about 70 prisons staged rebellions. Scores of people have been killed.

NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY reporting:

Just 48 hours after a five-day assault paralyzed Sao Paulo, an uneasy calm has returned to most of the city.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

MCCARTHY: People are packing the streets. Stores that shuttered their doors during the killing spree have reopened, and so have the schools. Attorney Sualie DeSilva-Santos(ph) stands before Sao Paulo's heavily guarded city hall and says the sense that things are normal is deceiving.

Ms. SUALIE DESILVA-SANTOS (Attorney, Brazil): (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: Despite the feeling of normality, that's just an illusion, she says. Because we know that violence is growing everywhere, and we don't have a sense of security any longer. Signs of insecurity are abundant in this metropolis of 20 million. The rich live behind secured walls, drive bulletproof cars, and buzz above the city in helicopters. But the audacity of this past week's assault on public order has sent a shockwave through Sao Paulo, South America's largest city.

Authorities say there have been more than 200 attacks on police, another 54 on the homes of officers. Scores of busses have been set ablaze - four more were reported burned last night. Police say the worst crime offensive in Sao Paulo's history has been led by a notorious group that was born inside prison. The organization calls itself The First Command of the Capital, and is known as the PCC, its Portuguese initials.

The group is believed to have engineered the attacks from inside prison, using cell phones to transmit orders to its legions on the outside. Authorities believe that their decision to isolate the most dangerous members of the PCC in prison triggered the onslaught against them. Along with the 40 officers who were killed, authorities say at least 93 people suspected of involvement in the attacks have also been killed. Guards, as well as inmates, also died in the rebellions that swept through the state's prisons.

In a country where the police have been implicated in extradicial (ph) killings, human rights advocates expressed concern that authorities may have used excessive force to quell the violence. But public sentiment is running high in favor of stricter treatment of criminals and those officials who are believed to assist them inside prison.

Illiana Santos Virginelli(ph) manages a clothing store in Sao Paulo.

Ms. ILLIANA SANTOS VIRGINELLI (Store Manager, Sao Paulo): (Through translator) Like every country, we have a problem with corruption. Some criminals get special treatment. These leaders of the PCC are very intelligent people, and we have to be harder on them.

MCCARTHY: Brazil's Senate, yesterday, approved a list of measures to tighten control over prisoners, including isolation for up to two years, fewer visits, and fewer consultations with defense attorneys.

The Sao Paulo court also issued a decree effectively blocking cell phone coverage to at least six state prisons, curbing the prisoners' ability to communicate with the outside world.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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