'Good will beat evil,' Bolsonaro says amid crime crackdown

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Brazil's new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, vowed Sunday that "good will beat evil" as he oversaw a troop crackdown on gangs rampaging in a northeast city and mourned the murder of a Rio policeman.

In a tweet, he sent condolences to the family of the officer who was shot and killed early Sunday when he confronted armed assailants robbing motorists in Rio de Janeiro.

Lamenting that security personnel and citizens targeted by criminals used to be treated as mere statistics, Bolsonaro said: "The legislative, executive and judicial (powers) together must, by law, give guarantees that good will beat evil."

He made the remark as 300 federal troops deployed to the northeast city of Fortaleza and surrounding towns in the state of Ceara over the weekend to counter a crime wave by rampaging gangs.

The soldiers were ordered in by Bolsonaro's justice minister, Sergio Moro, at the request of the state's governor, who belongs to the opposition leftwing Workers Party.

Eighty-six suspects have been arrested in Fortaleza and 23 other towns in the state, the government news agency Agencia Brasil reported.

The governor, Camilo Santana, was quoted saying state police and the soldiers were working jointly, and declaring: "I will be tough on crime."

- Dozens of attacks -

Ceara has been subjected to dozens of attacks by gangs on service stations, buses, government buildings and shops over the past week. Residents, responding to the climate of lawlessness in Fortaleza and other towns, stayed indoors to avoid being caught up in the violence.

In one instance, a supporting pillar of a flyover road near Fortaleza was badly damaged by explosives. In another, thousands of live chickens being transported on a truck were burned to death.

Brazilian intelligence reportedly believed the gangs were reacting to tough new measures introduced in the state's prisons, which included cellphone blockers and an end to a policy of separating inmates, according to gang affiliation.

After initially turning down Santana's request for troops, Moro -- a former star corruption judge -- decided to give the order for them to deploy in support of local police.

The governor of Brazil's northern state of Para also has asked Moro to send in federal troops to help battle crime. He is waiting on the decision by Bolsonaro's government.

Bolsonaro has vowed to crack down on Brazil's rampant crime by extending immunity to soldiers and police using lethal force and easing gun laws so "good" citizens can challenge armed criminals.

The far-right president, a 63-year-old former paratrooper, has made "restoring order" a centerpiece of his four-year mandate.

Brazil has the third biggest prison population in the world, behind the United States and China, with more than 700,000 people incarcerated. Penitentiaries are overcrowded and beset by gangs that often viciously turn on each other.