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Striking Brazil police leave building; violence up during stoppage

- Associated Press - Thursday, February 9, 2012

SALVADOR, Brazil Striking police officers in the northeastern city of Salvador on Thursday evacuated the state legislative building they had occupied in protest for more than a week.

It was not immediately clear whether the conclusion of the dramatic standoff between the strikers and 1,000 federal troops also would mark the end of the 10-day-long work stoppage that has threatened one of the globe's biggest Carnival celebrations here.

Army spokesman Marcio Cunha didn't know whether the estimated 10,000 striking officers would return to the job, and some local media reported that negotiations were to continue.

The strike had sparked an immediate spike in violence here in Brazil's third-largest city, with murder rates more than doubling since it started Jan. 30.

The murders, as well as a rash of shop lootings and holdups, have scared tourists away from Salvador in the run-up to the city's iconic Carnival festivities.

State authorities have been under intense pressure to resolve the strike.

A total of 245 strikers evacuated the building early Thursday, filing out between rows of soldiers surrounding the building. All were adults. About 10 children were evacuated earlier this week.

An initial group of several dozen men and a few women left the building on foot early Thursday, while a steady stream followed on motorcycles and on cars packed with blankets and other gear.

They were greeted with cheers by a group of family and friends, many of whom had camped out on the building's grounds for days.

Mr. Cunha, the army spokesman, said the legislature building appeared to be "dirty but in OK conditions." He declined to say whether arms had been found in the building or on those leaving it.

The officers had been carrying their work weapons earlier in the building.

The strike's leader, Marco Prisco, and another top leader were detained, said Mr. Cunha.

Under the terms of an agreement with government negotiators, both were spirited out through a back entrance, far from the media scrum. They were taken to a military police facility in Salvador, Mr. Cunha said.

The fate of Mr. Prisco and other leaders is a major sticking point in the negotiations. Arrest warrants have been issued against 12 of the leaders on charges of organizing roaming bands to stir up panic in the city and of robbing police cars.

Seven remain at large following Thursday's arrests.

The strikers have narrowed their demands to amnesty for the walkout and payment of bonuses that would add about $350 a month to officers' paychecks. Monthly salaries for officers in Bahia now range between $1,100 and $1,330, depending on rank and experience.

The state government has offered a raise of 6.5 percent as well as bonuses but refused to offer amnesty for the striking officers.

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