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Rio police protest lack of salaries, toilet paper

riopo1Police in Rio de Janeiro protested Monday against late payment of salaries and a lack of equipment ranging from car fuel to toilet paper as the Brazilian city prepares to host the Olympic Games.

About 300 police clad in black T-shirts stood on the steps of the Rio de Janeiro state assembly to denounce what they said had been their abandonment ahead of the Olympics, which start on August 5.

“The police’s priority is the people, the government’s priority is the Olympics,” read one banner at the rare public display of anger by a force that finds itself in the midst of both a state budget crisis and a lethal surge in criminal activity.

One officer, who like other protesters asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions at work, told AFP that he had only been paid half his salary last month and was still waiting for this month’s salary.

“I haven’t been paid my overtime for five months either,” the 40-year-old officer said.

A starting salary in the civil police force is about $15,000 a year.

Officers said that in addition to pay problems, their work conditions — often in dangerous neighborhoods where they face heavily armed drug traffickers — have become dire.

“At the stations we don’t have paper or ink for the printers, there’s no one to come in to clean and some stations don’t have a water supply anymore so the toilets are not functioning,” said Andre, a 39-year-old officer in an elite unit that is key to providing security for the Olympics.

“Members of the public bring toilet paper to us,” he said.

A lack of fuel restricts use of cars, officers at the protest said.

Police also say that lack of a functioning helicopter added to their inability to prevent the daring rescue by traffickers a week ago of a notorious drug lord from a hospital, where he was under armed guard during treatment for bullet wounds.

Rio de Janeiro state’s acting governor warned on Monday in a newspaper interview that budget shortfalls threaten turning the Olympics into a “big failure.”

In terms of security, the state only has funding “until the end of this week,” he was quoted as saying by O Globo.

Rio is waiting for a 2.9 billion reai ($855 million) bailout from the federal budget ahead of the Games, with security a priority recipient.

Earlier this month authorities said the “calamity” in state finances could lead to “a collapse in public safety, health, education, transportation and environmental management.”

Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8 percent last year, its worst recession in 25 years. The International Monetary Fund and the market are predicting a similar contraction this year.

Meanwhile crime is on the rise in what is already one of the world’s most violent countries. Rio’s police, heavily criticized for overuse of deadly force, are themselves taking growing casualties.

So far this year 52 officers in the state have been killed, while 85 were killed in all of 2015.

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