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Brazil: 22 murders connected to local elections

There have been 22 murders connected to upcoming municipal campaigns for mayor or city council in Brazil during the past 60 days, leading 410 towns to ask for help from elite federal police, according to a report from O Globo newspaper on Monday.

The numbers leading up to the October elections are worrisome but not unusual, said Gilson Conzatti, the president of a national group representing city council members. Conzatti says local elections can threaten entrenched power structures that respond violently.

A survey of candidates in Brazil's 5,565 towns and cities by Conzatti's organization showed about 5 percent of candidates had suffered some threat or attack.

"Local elections mess with local power structures, and soon you have neighbor fighting with neighbor, shootings, agression of all sorts," he said.

Often, the politicians themselves are unprepared to resolve differences at the ballot box, Conzatti said.

"If they really prized democracy and the respect for rights, they'd fight in the way they should fight -- with ideas, projects, attitudes," he said. "But unfortunately elections in Brazil are not always like this."

Political science researcher Ricardo Ismael of Rio de Janeiro's Catholic University agrees local elections in Brazil tend to be more violent than those for state or federal level office.

"Municipal elections introduce that local element, small towns with few police officers, where there are old political bosses who won't admit losing, and that go about defending their turf in an old fashioned way," Ismael said.

The federal troops serve an important role because they're neutral, outside forces, Ismael said. Local police are under the governor's control, and the governor or his party may have a candidate in the race. The federal officers, on the other hand, are frequently from other states, he said.

The states with the greatest number of towns asking for federal police help are in the north and northeast of the country, where disputes over land rights often turn bloody.

Rio de Janeiro is the only state in the wealthier southeastern region to request support. The challenge in Rio is preventing paramilitary criminal organizations or gangs affiated with drug trafficking from threatening candidates or affecting the vote.

Each municipality's request will be examined and officers will be allocated according to need, said Ismael.

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Follow Juliana Barbassa on Twitter: (at)jbarbassa