Violence rages in north-eastern Brazil despite large police presence

Attacks reportedly ordered by organised crime gangs in retaliation for plans to tighten controls in Ceara’s prisons

Vehicles burn in the street after attacks in the city of Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Brazil's newly inaugurated government has ordered military police sent to Ceara state following a wave of attacks on banks, public buildings and infrastructure over the past two days, which have hit 15 cities, including the capital. (AP Photo/Alex Gomes/O Povo)
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The attacks and fire-bombings sweeping Brazil's north-eastern state of Ceara continued on Sunday despite the presence of at least 300 members of the elite, military-style National Police Force on the streets to help bring an end to the violence.

The state's public security department said that buses and cars were set on fire and petrol stations were attacked in Fortaleza, the capital, and in at least six other cities. Police killed two people in a shoot-out. More than 100 people have been taken into custody since the violence erupted on Wednesday.

Security forces were sent into Ceara days after the inauguration of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain elected on pledges to crack down on crime and give security forces a free hand against criminals.


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Earlier, he praised the move, saying “the people of Ceara need help at this moment”.

Authorities have said the attacks were ordered by organised crime groups in retaliation for plans to impose tighter controls in the state’s prisons. Brazil’s prison gangs are powerful and their reach extends outside the country’s jails.

The use of the security forces was ordered by Brazil's federal Justice and Public Security Ministry, now led by popular former anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, at the request of Ceara governor Camilo Santana, citing the "urgent" nature of the threat.

Mr Bolsonaro, who took office on New Year’s Day, has said he also plans to issue a presidential decree that would make it easier for Brazilians to legally own guns. He argued it was necessary for people to defend themselves.

While legal gun ownership is restricted, drug traffickers and other criminal groups are often heavily armed with automatic weapons. Brazil is the world leader in annual killings.