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Rio bus drivers ignore court order, continue strike

Striking bus drivers in Rio de Janeiro ignored a court order to provide a minimum level of service on Wednesday, prolonging traffic chaos in the city less than a month from the World Cup.

RIO DE JANEIRO: Striking bus drivers in Rio de Janeiro ignored a court order to provide a minimum level of service on Wednesday, prolonging traffic chaos in the city less than a month from the World Cup.

Drivers trashed 14 buses, said police, bringing the total number of vehicles attacked since the strike began to 605 despite a plea from President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday for non-violence in the run-up to the tournament, which opens June 12.

The strike has paralysed 60 per cent of Rio's privately run bus fleet despite a court threatening to fine the drivers' union 50,000 reais ($23,000, 16,000 euros) a day if it failed to keep at least 70 per cent of buses on the road.

Drivers launched the strike last Thursday, when more than 500 buses were trashed or set on fire, causing an estimated 17 million reais ($7.7 million) in damages.

They resumed work through the weekend, but when negotiations broke down they launched a new 48-hour walkout on Tuesday, demanding monthly salaries of 2,500 reais -- a 40-per cent raise -- and an end to their double duty as drivers and fare collectors.

Officials say two million of Rio's 6.3 million people depend on buses. Train, metro and ferry service has been increased in an effort to manage the fallout from the strike.

Passengers complained that mini-bus drivers were capitalising on the situation by increasing fares from seven reais to 10.

Despite the deployment of military police to protect the buses in service, fear of reprisal attacks has kept many drivers home.

Daily newspaper O Dia ran a front-page photo of a strike-breaking driver disguised in a fake beard and glasses.

"There are more than 40,000 bus drivers and fare-collectors in Rio and this movement has 0.1-per cent support. That shows these people's opportunism," said Rio state Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao.

The strike has exposed deep divisions in the drivers' union, Sintraturb-Rio, which opposes it but has been powerless to override the strikers, who say they feel the union does not represent them.

"The problem is that the union doesn't want to come negotiate," said strike leader Helio Teodoro.

"That claim doesn't make any sense. This is a political action by a group that has infiltrated our union and wants to paralyse Rio during the World Cup," said union boss Leilo Teixeira.

Hundreds of thousands of domestic and foreign tourists are set to flood Rio for the World Cup.

Brazil has been hit by a series of strikes in the run-up to the tournament, including by police, and there are fears of widespread protests.

Last year's Confederations Cup was marred by huge protests, some of them violent.

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