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Brazilians Protest Police Massacre

April 17, 1998

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Tens of thousands of landless farm workers and their supporters protested across Brazil on Friday, demanding trials for police who killed 19 peasants two years ago.

The rallies in 23 cities were peaceful except in Sao Paulo, where protesters threw rocks and clashed with police, who responded with tear gas. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

In most cities, landless peasants, union members and students rallied before 19 coffins symbolizing those killed on April 17, 1996, when police opened fire on landless workers demonstrating in the Amazon state of Para.

The coffins were draped in the red flags of the Landless Rural Workers Movement, which gained national attention organizing squatter invasions of uncultivated lands to pressure the government to speed up an agrarian reform program.

``We are demanding the government put those responsible for the massacre in jail,″ said movement spokesman Gilberto Portes.

Most of the 153 police officers charged in the killing in Eldorado dos Carajas have remained on active duty with no trial dates set.

Secretary of Human Rights Jose Gregori defended the government and said he hoped the officers could be tried by the end of the year.

In Eldorado dos Carajas, peasants held a memorial Mass at the site of the massacre. They tied up traffic in Recife, chanted slogans in Brasilia, and marched through the city center in Rio.

``We’re landless and homeless. They only know how to kill us and the government does nothing,″ said a protester in Rio, who would only identify herself as Margarita.

Brazil has one of Latin America’s most concentrated systems of land tenure, with the wealthiest 20 percent of Brazilians controlling nearly 90 percent of the land.

The imbalance has been a continuing source of friction, with 14 people killed in land-related violence so far this year, human rights groups said.

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