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Police and Bus Drivers Strike in Brazil Ahead of World Cup

A strike by bus drivers caused mayhem in Sao Paulo, while police walked off the job yet again as Brazil prepares for the tournament.
May 21, 2014, 8:20pm
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Brazilian police walked off the job once again today in yet another strike over low wages that affected 14 of the country's states — including six that are set to host World Cup games starting on June 12 — while bus drivers demanding higher pay held a strike for a second consecutive day in Sao Paulo, sending commuters into chaos.

Striking drivers closed down 15 of the city’s 18 bus terminals, while others parked buses in the middle of the city’s heavily trafficked streets. The bus protest started to taper off on Wednesday, with a spokeswoman for SP Urbanuus telling the Associated Press that 60 percent of the city's buses were back on the roads.

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Sao Paulo streets burn as Brazil’s protesters promise ‘fighting’ ahead of the World Cup. Read more here.

The videos below, by a local TV network and city residents, show hundreds of people swarming a subway station in Sao Paulo as residents of the city looked for transportation alternatives. Some 230,000 people were affected by the strike, according to local officials.

Wednesday's police strike didn’t seem to have quite the same impact — though earlier walkouts by police have left authorities scrambling to secure Brazil's cities.

This time around the striking officers included about 70 percent of the civilian police force — the officers behind police investigations, rather than those involved in patrolling the streets. But earlier this month, federal police officers also went on strike, threatening to do so again during the tournament if their demands are not met.

"If the government does not show willingness to negotiate, we do not rule stopping during the Cup," Marcelo Novaes, the police union's president in Rio told local reporters.

In April a police strike in Salvador de Bahia led to a surge in looting and murders that forced the government to send in the military to reign in the chaos. Another crime wave also hit the city of Recife when federal police in the northeastern state of Pernambuco went on strike last week.

Brazilian police strike again and might work out during the World Cup. Read more here.

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The video below shows a police protest in Rio de Janeiro.

In April, Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said police strikes are “illegal and unconstitutional” according to the country’s Supreme Court.

“For that legal reason, and because I don’t believe that police officers who swore to respect their nation would want to expose their country to an unacceptable situation in front of the whole world, I don’t think there will be strikes during the World Cup,” he said.

Striking workers were not the only ones to take to Brazil's streets in recent weeks.

Preparations for the World Cup — including massive spending and a controversial "pacification" of the country's favelas — brought hundreds of protesters to rally in Rio and other cities over the last months, as demonstrations often ended in violent and sometimes deadly confrontations with police.

Brazil is criminalizing protests ahead of the World Cup. Read more here.

In March, Brazilian authorities also introduced a controversial bill, which would essentially criminalize protests as a form of "terrorism."

That proposal — as well as the police's often brutal repression of protesters — sparked widespread condemnation, including by human rights groups like Amnesty International, which launched a campaign dubbed "No foul play, Brazil," calling on authorities to "play by the rules."

“Protesting is not a crime, it is a human right," Atila Roque, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, said in a statement on May 8. "Instead of using violence to crush protesters, the government and the security forces have the responsibility of ensuring people are safe. Any abuses must be promptly investigated, with those responsible brought to justice."

The group released the video below as part of its campaign, pitting peaceful protesters and armed police against each other in a symbolic soccer game.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi