SAO PAULO (AP) — Protests by friends and family of military police officers in a coastal Brazilian state have touched off a crime wave and forced the shutdown of some state services, authorities said Monday.
At the request of the Espirito Santo state government, federal troops began arriving Monday night to help patrol the streets.
The protests calling for higher pay began this weekend outside military police barracks across the small, coastal state and have prevented vehicles from leaving. That has left the military police virtually unable to patrol, though a few foot patrols began Monday, the Department of Public Security said.
Brazil's military police play a crucial role in maintaining general security.
In the state capital of Vitoria, store windows were smashed and metal shutters used to protect shops peeled away as looters took advantage of the vacuum in law enforcement. Civil police used force to stop some thieves, shooting at least one man in the leg.
Defense Minister Raul Jungmann traveled to the state Monday evening and 150 soldiers were already on duty. In all, 1,000 members of the armed forces and 200 members of the national guard were being sent to reinforce police. The commander of the military police in the state has also been replaced.
The protests come as Brazil grapples with a deep, protracted recession and many states struggle financially. In Rio de Janeiro state, where the government is desperately trying to plug a huge deficit, public servants have repeatedly protested over late pay, sometimes clashing violently with police.
The protests in Espirito Santo have "paralyzed the military police service, not just in the capital but also in the entire state," the state's head of public security, Andre Garcia, told reporters. He said there had been a marked increase in crime since the protests began. Later, he told the defense minister that there had been 37 homicides from Sunday to Monday.
"Movements of this nature, they hold society hostage," Garcia said.
Because of security concerns, officials in Vitoria suspended most services Monday, though emergency services were being maintained with help from the municipal security force. The city closed schools, parks and health centers.
The closure of health services meant there could be no vaccinations for yellow fever in the city, even as Brazil experiences its worst outbreak of the disease since 2000. Espirito Santo has seen 14 confirmed cases in the current outbreak, and dozens more are under investigation.
A court ordered the protesters to end their blockade, but the demonstrations outside barracks continued.
Because of their crucial role, members of the military police are not allowed to engage in strikes. But Garcia, the head of public security, implied that officers were behind the movement, which he called "supposedly spontaneous."
Maj. Rogerio Fernandes Lima, a union representative, denied to reporters that military police had organized the protests but said the officers supported the goals, namely higher pay. He said officers in the state are among the worst paid in Brazil.