Monday, September 30, 2002

Crime gang closes Rio stores, schools

                  RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Stores and schools across Rio closed
                  Monday, reportedly on orders from the city's most powerful crime gang
                  to protest prison conditions of its jailed leader.

                  Police increased street patrols and no violence was reported, but fear shut down
                  much of the city.

                  From trendy Ipanema beach to the city's poor north side, scores of shops didn't open
                  or quickly closed. The Estacio de Sa college let out classes and canceled
                  scheduled exams becaus e students and teachers stayed home.

                  Media reports said the shutdown order came from traffickers linked to Luiz Fernando
                  da Costa, Brazil's most notorious drug lord.

                  His supporters were said to want better jail conditions for da Costa, who is better
                  known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar -- Seaside Freddy in Portuguese.

                  Drug gangs control hundreds of Rio's favelas, or shantytowns, and often order
                  nearby shops and schools to close when a prominent gang member is arrested or
                  killed. But Monday's shutdown was much more widespread, affecting vast swaths of
                  the city.

                  Police pleaded for storekeepers not to cave in to the pressure, and some reopened
                  after shutting down for several hours. Store owners declined to answer questions
                  from a reporter.

                  "We cannot tolerate this coercion," Frederico Caldas, a spokesman for the Rio de
                  Janeiro military state police, said in a radio interview.

                  Earlier this month, da Costa led a bloody uprising in the maximum-security Bangu I
                  prison in Rio. Members of his Red Command drug gang took hostages and killed
                  four leaders of a rival gang before surrendering.

                  Rio de Janeiro State Security Chief Roberto Aguiar said da Costa intended to unite
                  the warring criminal factions under his command. He said da Costa had bought the
                  cooperation of guards and had continued to run drug operations and gang activities
                  by cell phone from the prison.

                  After the rebellion, da Costa was transferred to a small top-security cell in a police
                  camp, where Aguiar said he was monitored around the clock.

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.