March 1, 2015 / 8:54 PM / in 3 years

Brazil cracks down on protesting truckers after violence

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian police arrested protesters and sent in backup troops to control striking truckers on Sunday after demonstrations turned violent and slowed food deliveries in Latin America’s largest economy.

Trucks line up at sugar and soybean terminals at the port of Santos February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Authorities in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul detained at least eight people on Sunday and sent riot police to some areas, reducing the number of blockades there from 25 Saturday night to three by Sunday afternoon, the local highway police said. More police were arriving from other states.

Protesters in Rio Grande do Sul torched a vehicle full of tires overnight, police said, after protester Cléber Adriano Machado Ouriques was hit and killed by a truck that did not stop at a blockade in the municipality of São Sepé.

Nationwide, there were 46 blockades on Saturday night according to the most recent government report. The nearly two-week-old movement has slowed grain deliveries, forced meat processing plants to close and is starting to leave some grocery stores with bare shelves.

Eighty percent of the roadblocks are now in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Parana and Santa Catarina, according to a statement from the president’s office late Saturday night.

The federal government will increase police presence on affected highways to enforce court orders to end the roadblocks, the statement said. Last week police started handing out steep fines to those blocking roads illegally.

Ivar Luiz Schmidt, one of the movement’s leaders, urged followers on Facebook to ignore rumors of an agreement with the government and vowed to continue the strike. Protesters say the government has not adequately addressed their concerns over rising fuel and freight costs.

A spokesman for the country’s No. 3 soy exporting port of Rio Grande said on Sunday the port was receiving half the soy and corn it usually does this time of year but had enough grain stored in silos to continue exporting for a few more days.

Brazil’s No. 2 soy exporting port of Paranagua has also reported dwindling supplies at a time of year Brazil exports much of the world’s soybeans. A spokesman said on Friday the port could only guarantee stocks to load ships through March 3.

The main grains exporting port of Santos has operated normally for the past week, but protesters moved onto a major highway in the city of Sao Paulo on Sunday in a sign they may resume blockades in the state where the port is located.

Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli

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