BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte will deploy troops on the streets to quash a wave of violence unleashed by a criminal gang just days before the Olympic Games open in Rio de Janeiro, officials said on Tuesday.
Police have arrested 82 people suspected of torching dozens of buses, setting off bombs and firing shots at government buildings to oppose restrictions on gang leaders being held at the main penitentiary of Rio Grande do Norte in state capital Natal, about 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) north of Rio.
The governor authorized the deployment of 1,200 troops on the streets of Natal and other towns where violence continued into a fifth day, said a spokesman for the state’s security department, Captain Christiano Couceiro.
“The 1,000 army soldiers and 200 Marines sent by the federal government will arrive tomorrow morning, and they will patrol the streets,” Couceiro said by telephone.
He said 28 public buses had been destroyed by fire, as well as other government vehicles and private cars.
Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer, seeking to quell the violence before the Olympic Games start on Friday in Rio, authorized the dispatch of troops to the state on Sunday. No Olympic events are taking place in Rio Grande do Norte.
The troop deployment is a sign police are still struggling to contain the violence that started on Friday night. The incidents were reportedly triggered by a plan to move some of the gang’s leaders to other jails and in response to the blocking of their cellphone communications, Couceiro said.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Andrew Hay)