Rio calm in 2nd day of police strike

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Few police officers have adhered to a strike just days before this city's world-famous Carnival kicks off, official said Saturday.

Col. Robson Rodrigues da Silva, the administrative chief of staff of Rio de Janeiro state's police force, told reporters that the city's streets were "calm and the number of police officers that have joined the strike is very low."

Silva didn't say how many of the state's 58,000 police and firefighters had adhered to the strike. Union officials said that anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent were expected to join.

The work stoppage started Friday despite legislative approval of a 39 percent pay raise to be staggered over this year and the next.

Silva attributed the low adherence rate to the "energetic measures adopted to make sure the strike does not affect Rio's peace and tranquility especially now with Carnival just a few days away."

He said 17 police officers have been arrested for joining the strike movement and inciting others to follow them. Top police officials say police are not legally able to strike, but that question is being debated in Brazil's court system.

A police strike could be disastrous for Brazil's Carnival celebration, the world's largest. It draws about 800,000 tourists every year.

Carnival starts officially next Friday, but massive street parties that can draw up to 2 million people to the streets have already kicked off the merry maelstrom that consumes this city every summer. Rio's Carnival pumps more than $500 million into the city's economy annually.

"I am certain that Carnival will be held with complete tranquility," federal Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo told reporters. "The government is ready to send in troops if necessary."

The government has said about 14,000 soldiers were ready to patrol the streets at the request of Rio Governor Sergio Cabral, who has said that so far they are not needed.

Meanwhile, a police strike in Salvador, Brazil's third largest city, entered its 12th day with strikers expected to hold an assembly to decide if the work stoppage will continue, said G1, Globo TV's Internet portal.

Salvador's Carnival is Brazil's second largest, and while officials vow it will go on, many visitors have canceled their trips to the city.

The strike sparked an immediate spike in violence, with murder rates more than doubling since the strike started last Tuesday. 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.