Gunmen storm Brazil prison, policeman killed as 92 inmates escape

This file photo taken on January 18, 2017 shows inmates returning to the pavilions just before the special police battalion invaded the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center to regain control of the penitentiary in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. (AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018

Gunmen storm Brazil prison, policeman killed as 92 inmates escape

  • The population is double the capacity of the nation’s prisons, which in 2016 was estimated to be 368,049 inmates

SAO PAULO: Heavily armed men blew down the front gate of a maximum security prison in northeastern Brazil early Monday and with guns blazing enabled 92 inmates to escape while killing a policeman, authorities said.
Officials said the assault was carried out by about 20 men in four vehicles who fired on watchtowers and used explosives to destroy the front gate of the Romeu Goncalves Abrantes prison.
A policeman shot in the assault later died in hospital. There were no other reports of deaths or injuries.
The prison, a maximum security facility with 680 inmates, is located in Joao Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba state.
“Heavily armed men knocked down the main gate after an exchange of fire with police and penitentiary agents,” the state’s secretariat for prisons said.
By midday, 41 of the 92 escaped prisoners had been recaptured as security forces locked down the state capital, closing schools and medical centers as a precaution.
More than a thousand police officers were mobilized to take part in the search, authorities said.
State prisons secretariat head, Col. Sergio Fonseca de Souza, said the aim of the assault was to free three suspects arrested a year ago for an armed assault using explosives.
Brazil has the world’s third largest prison population, with 726,712 inmates as of June 2016, according to official statistics.
The population is double the capacity of the nation’s prisons, which in 2016 was estimated to be 368,049 inmates.
“The whole of Brazil is going through this situation,” military police Col. Euller Chaves told reporters.
Along with severe overcrowding, Brazil’s prisons are plagued by gang violence, and riots and breakout attempts are not uncommon.

In April, a military-style battle erupted between guards and prisoners aided by outside associates, leaving 21 people dead at a prison in Belem, near the Amazon rainforest.
The attackers in that case also were heavily armed and tried to blow up a wall to help the would-be escapees. One policeman was killed alongside 20 prisoners and their associates.
In February, 18 people were taken hostage during a prison riot near Rio de Janeiro, although guards managed to retake control without anyone being killed.
A month earlier, though, another prison riot in the central state of Goias ended in a blaze that left nine people dead.
A year before that, Brazilian police had to launch a massive manhunt after 184 inmates escaped from two prisons in Amazonas state following a gruesome 17-hour bloodbath between rival gangs that left 56 prisoners dead, many beheaded.
President Michel Temer then vowed to build new prisons in every state to relieve overcrowding.
But another 26 prisoners were killed, most beheaded, in another massacre in a northeastern prison later that same month, after which the government called in the army to help restore order.
The country’s two biggest gangs have been at war, with much of the violence, at times savage, carried out in prisons.
In October 2016, 18 inmates were killed after violence broke out on successive days in two separate jails in the north, with some of the dead decapitated and others burned alive.


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 31 May 2020

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

  • Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year
  • SOAS said that it had taken short term action to reduce costs

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.