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Army officers detain two men suspected of stealing from stores in Vitoria, Espirito Santo, Brazil, February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

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By Paulo Whitaker

VITORIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Authorities in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo on Wednesday requested more federal troops to stem a crime wave amid an ongoing police strike that in five days has led to more than 80 reported deaths.

The death toll, if confirmed, would be roughly six times the state's comparable homicide rate from last year.

Despite the pending mobilization of 1,000 soldiers, and a contingent of 200 federal police officers who arrived in the southeastern state on Tuesday, violence continues its grip after state police began striking in a pay dispute last weekend.

Confronting the wave of assaults, looting and murders, local officials said they would need hundreds more troops to help make up for an average deployment of 1,800 officers who normally patrol the small coastal state north of Rio de Janeiro.

The stoppage, assisted by family and friends of officers who have blocked access to barracks and police stations, comes as Espirito Santo, like many states wracked by Brazil's worst recession on record, struggles to ensure even basic health, education and security services.

Governor Paulo Hartung on Wednesday called the strike, which prompted officials to close schools and clinics and has led fearful residents to stay home, "blackmail." He compared it to "kidnapping the liberty of citizens and charging a ransom."

Federal officials did not immediately respond to the request for more troops but earlier in the week said they would take whatever steps needed to restore order.

State officials have not confirmed the rising death toll from the violence, but local media have reported that more than 80 people have been killed since Saturday.

In addition to television footage and cell phone videos of assaults and looting in broad daylight, reports from the local morgue showed bodies on floors and in hallways of the overburdened facility.

Most of the violence has been centred in Vitoria and its suburbs, a metropolitan region of about 2 million people.

(Additional reporting and writing by Paulo Prada Editing by W Simon)

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