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Riot Police Try to Quell Continuing Violence in Brazilian Prison


Inmates at the Alcaçuz state penitentiary, near Natal in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, on Thursday. The police have been unable to take control of the prison since a riot on Saturday that killed 26 inmates. Credit Josemar Goncalves/Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO — In an attempt to regain government control after days of rioting, specially equipped police forces entered a Brazilian prison on Thursday where rival drug gangs were fighting pitched battles with metal bars and wooden clubs in scenes reminiscent of medieval warfare.

The horrific scenes, broadcast live on television by cameras situated on the sand dunes that tower over the prison walls, represented the escalation of a prison crisis that has seen over 120 prisoners killed this year alone.

The police have been unable to take control of the Alcaçuz state penitentiary near the city of Natal in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte since Jan. 14 when 26 prisoners were killed in a riot, with many mutilated and decapitated. Battles have been flaring inside the prison since then as officers in guard towers watched helplessly. Dozens of buses have been set ablaze in the city as the gang war spread to the streets.

In response to the increasing violence, President Michel Temer authorized the use of the armed forces this week to aid the police in searching for drugs, cellphones and weapons in Brazil’s crowded prison system, where drug gangs and extreme violence rule. Maj. Eduardo Franco, a police spokesman, said he was not able to confirm reports of two more prisoner deaths on Thursday.

The prison crisis exploded on Jan. 1 when 56 inmates were slaughtered during a riot at a prison near Manaus in the state of Amazonas. Five days later 33 people were killed at a prison in Roraima in the far north of Brazil. Police and security officials have blamed a war for control of Brazil’s drug trade between rival gangs.

The First Capital Command, which is from São Paulo and known by its Portuguese acronym P.C.C., is pitted against regional gangs, like the Amazon-based Family of the North, which the authorities said was behind the massacre in Manaus, and the Crime Syndicate, a gang from Rio Grande do Norte which was attacked by the P.C.C. on Jan. 14.

“This is almost a war situation,” the state justice secretary, Wallber Virgolino, said at a news conference on Thursday.

A popular tourist destination, Natal has been effectively put under curfew by the violence and buses have stopped running, said Nilson de Castro, 49, who runs a local news blog. “The population is terrified,” he said.

Source: NYT > World

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