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Brazil Riots: Over 400 arrested as Bolsonaro backers storm Congress

Brazil Riots: Over 400 arrested as Bolsonaro backers storm Congress thumbnail

Brasilia: Brazilian security forces locked down the area around Congress, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court Monday, a day after supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the seat of power in riots that triggered an international outcry.

In stunning scenes reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 invasion of the US Capitol building by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, backers of Bolsonaro broke through police cordons and overran the seats of power in Brasilia, smashing windows and doors and ransacking offices.

Rioters ransacked congress, the presidential palace and the top court in Brasilia on Sunday hoping to trigger a military intervention. It took hours for security forces to regain control of the main government buildings. Hundreds of arrests were carried out through the night, but thousands of Bolsonaro supporters remained in the area.

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Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, clash with the police after they stormed the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, clash with police during a protest outside the Planalto Palace building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Image Credit: AP

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Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, clash with police as they storm the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Image Credit: AP

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A protester, supporter of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, stands in front of a line of police in riot gear, during the storming of the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Image Credit: AP

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Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, protest outside the Planalto Palace building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Image Credit: AP

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Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the Planalto Palace building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Image Credit: AP

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A Police helicopter flies over the Planalto Palace after it was stormed and vandalized by supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Protesters who refuse to accept Bolsonaro´s election defeat stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace in the capital, a week after the inauguration of his rival, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva inspects the damage at Planalto Palace after it was stormed by supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Protesters who refuse to accept Bolsonaro´s election defeat stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential palace in the capital, a week after the inauguration of his rival, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walks in Planalto Palace after it was stormed by supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, attack a police vehicle after they stormed the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Image Credit: AP

Lula, who was visiting a city destroyed by rains in the state of Sao Paulo, returned late to capital to take stock of the situation. He decreed federal intervention in the security of the federal district, which will likely be confirmed by congress during an extraordinary session early on Monday. In a show of strength, he’s likely to meet with the heads of congress and the top court, as well as state governors who are expected to fly into Brasilia.

“There’s no precedent for this in the history of our country,” Lula said in televised comments, vowing to prosecute the rioters. “We’re going to find out who the financial backers are.”

In the early hours of Monday, top court Justice Alexandre de Moraes criticized the “despicable terrorist attacks on democracy” and ordered Federal District Governor Ibaneis Rocha removed from office for 90 days while his responsibility in the security breach is investigated.

Moraes also gave police 24 hours to disband Bolsonaro’s supporters who have been camping in front of military headquarters across the country since the conservative leader lost to Lula by a razor-thin margin in an election runoff on Oct. 30.

Acts of Vandalism

The chaos came after a sea of protesters dressed in military-style camouflage and the green and yellow of the flag flooded into Brasilia’s Three Powers Square, invading the floor of Congress, trashing the Supreme Court building and climbing the ramp to the Planalto.

Social media footage showed rioters breaking doors and windows to enter the Congress building, then streaming inside en masse, trashing lawmakers’ offices and using the sloped speaker’s dais on the Senate floor as a slide as they shouted insults directed at the absent lawmakers.

Protesters damaged artworks, historic objects, furniture and decorations as they ran riot through the buildings, according to Brazilian media reports. One video showed a crowd outside pulling a policeman from his horse and beating him to the ground. Police, who had established a security cordon around the square, fired tear gas in a bid to disperse the rioters – initially to no avail.

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Reporters attacked

A journalists’ union said at least five reporters were attacked, including an AFP photographer who was beaten by protesters and had his equipment stolen.

Hardline Bolsonaro supporters have been protesting outside army bases calling for a military intervention to stop Lula from taking power since his election win.

Lula’s government vowed to find and arrest those who planned and financed the attacks.

Brasilia security chief sacked

Brasilia Governor Ibaneis Rocha fired the capital’s public security chief, Anderson Torres, who previously served as Bolsonaro’s justice minister.

The attorney general’s office said it had asked the Supreme Court to issue arrest warrants for Torres “and all other public officials responsible for acts and omissions” leading to the unrest.

It also asked the high court to authorize the use of “all public security forces” to take back federal buildings and disperse anti-government protests nationwide.

Hundreds arrested

Police retook the damaged public buildings in the iconic futuristic capital after three hours and dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

Justice Minister Flavio Dino said 200 demonstrators had been arrested, but governor Rocha put the number at 400.

Dino said investigations will aim to uncover who financed the several hundred buses that brought Bolsonaro’s supporters to Brasilia and also probe Rocha for not preparing security.

The occupation of the government buildings had been planned for at least two weeks by Bolsonaro’s supporters in groups on social media messaging platforms such as Telegram and Twitter, yet there was no move by security forces to prevent the attack, called by one group “the seizure of power by the people.”

‘We will be back’

The crowd was finally dispersed by police, but their demands stayed behind in messages painted onto the facade — including a call to the military for “Intervention now!”

Another read: “Destitution of the three powers,” referring to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Backers of far-right Bolsonaro, who left Brazil two days before the end of a controversial term, also stormed the nearby presidential palace and Supreme Court — all three buildings gathered on the so-called Esplanade of Ministries in the capital.

Sunak condemns post-election unrest

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday he condemned any attempt to undermine the peaceful transfer of power and the democratic will of the people of Brazil, after supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro ransacked government buildings.

Sunak said on Twitter that Brazil’s new leader President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his government “has the United Kingdom’s full support”.

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China says ‘firmly opposes violent attack’

China Monday said it “firmly opposes the violent attack” on government buildings in the Brazilian capital, after hundreds of supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s Congress, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court.

“China closely follows and firmly opposes the violent attack on the federal authority in Brazil on January 8,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, adding Beijing “supports the measures taken by the Brazilian government to calm the situation, restore social order and safeguard national stability.”

Scholz: Pro-Bolsonaro riots an attack on democracy

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday condemned the storming of key government buildings in Brazil by supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro, saying the coordinated invasion represented an attack on democracy and cannot be tolerated.

“The violent attacks on democratic institutions are an attack on democracy that cannot be tolerated,” said Scholz in a tweet, adding that Germany stood behind Brazil’s current president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.

‘Fraudulent election’

Protester Sarah Lima told AFP they were demanding a review of the “fraudulent election.”

Lula narrowly won the runoff by a score of 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent. Bolsonaro, who left for the US state of Florida on the second-to-last day of his term, has alleged he is the victim of a conspiracy against him by Brazil’s courts and electoral authorities.

“I’m here for history, for my daughters,” said Lima, 27, wearing the yellow jersey of the Brazilian national football team – a symbol Bolsonaro backers have claimed as their own – and protesting with her young twin daughters.

Fellow protester Rogerio Souza Marcos said the elections had been plagued by “multiple signs of fraud and corruption.”

Newly installed Justice and Public Security Minister Flavio Dino called the invasion “an absurd attempt to impose (the protesters’) will by force.”

“It will not prevail,” he wrote on Twitter.

There was swift international condemnation of the protesters.

Vehemently condemns: UN

The United Nations said it “vehemently condemns” the attacks.

US President Joe Biden slammed the scenes as “outrageous,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted his “absolute condemnation,” and French President Emmanuel Macron called for respect for Brazil’s institutions and sent Lula “France’s unwavering support.”

Even Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni condemned the riots.

A raft of Latin American leaders joined in, with Chilean President Gabriel Boric denouncing a “cowardly and vile attack on democracy” and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador calling it a “reprehensible coup attempt.”

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