Hundreds of striking police officers agreed early Thursday to leave a state assembly house they had occupied for 10 days in Brazil's third-biggest city, easing tensions in a walkout that unleashed a bloody crime wave and cast doubt on upcoming carnival celebrations across the country.
There was no indication, however, the decision by 245 striking police and some family members to give up their vigil in the assembly building was a sign the strike was near an end.
About 20 percent of the state police's 31,000 officers walked off their jobs on January 31, resulting in a crime spree that included at least 143 murders, twice the regular homicide rate. The disorder also led to rampant assaults, and widespread looting and vandalism.
Some of the crimes allegedly have been committed by police officers themselves.
The end of the assembly building occupation provides some relief to a city stricken by fear at a time when Salvador, in Brazil's northeast, normally would be gearing up for its popular annual carnival celebrations.
It also saps momentum from a protest that officials feared could spread to Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian states where police officers, like those in Salvador's Bahia state, are demanding a pay raise.
Though many Brazilians understand the plight of the striking police, whose wages are low compared with many private-sector workers, the chaos caused by the walkout has brought heavy condemnation of the strike by citizens and government leaders alike.
It's not possible for those who receive money and arms from the people for protection to use those arms against them, said Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo.
Brazil's national government, which has already sent more than 3,000 federal troops to Bahia to help restore order, would take similar actions in other states, he added, in order to ensure that the chaos does not spread and that carnival can be celebrated with absolute tranquillity.
State security leaders in Rio have also said they can ensure adequate protection in the city even if police there do decide to strike. Carnival celebrations begin February 17 and last through February 22.
Two alleged leaders of the Bahia strike were arrested as they abandoned the assembly house on Thursday, including one officer who was heard in a leaked telephone recording inciting police outside Salvador to block traffic on a federal highway.
A fireman, part of the Rio state force considering strikes, was arrested Wednesday following a visit to Salvador during which he was recorded discussing ways to leverage the Bahia protests to spread unrest to his region.
State officials in Bahia were expected to resume talks with the striking police on Thursday. Officials have already agreed to a 6.5 percent wage hike for the police force, but have refused demands for amnesty for any crimes committed by striking officers.
Police officers in other states, including Rio, are also expected to meet Thursday and in following days to discuss whether strikes elsewhere would proceed.
In addition to the bloodshed, the Bahia protest has taken a heavy economic toll in Salvador. Carnival lures as many as 2 million people to the city's streets each year, including as many as 500,000 foreign tourists, according to the municipal tourism bureau.
Since the strike began, though, shopkeepers, restaurants, and other businesses have closed or curtailed their hours. Concerts and other events have been cancelled. Tourism officials say at least 10 percent of the reservations made by visitors from outside the area have been cancelled in recent days.
For many of the striking police the disruptions are exactly the point. On Wednesday, outside the state assembly house where some of their colleagues had barricaded themselves, many of the police chanted, Oh, oh, oh. Carnival is doomed!
(Writing by Paulo Prada; Editing by Todd Benson and Eric Beech)