Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil’s top government offices

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who refuse to accept his defeat in the elections stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace on Sunday, a week after the inauguration of his leftist rival, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Thousands of demonstrators bypassed security barricades, climbed onto rooftops, smashed windows and invaded all three buildings, which were thought to be virtually empty over the weekend. Some of the demonstrators called for military intervention to either return the far-right Bolsonaro to power or oust Lula from the presidency.

Hours passed before control of the buildings in Brasília’s vast Tri-Powers Square was restored and hundreds of participants were arrested.

At a press conference in the state of São Paulo, Lula accused Bolsonaro of encouraging an uprising by what he called “fascist fanatics” and read out a recently signed decree that the federal government should take control of security in the federal district.

“What they have done is without precedent and these people should be punished,” Lula said.

Globo News TV channel showed the protesters wearing the green and yellow colors of the national flag, which also became a symbol of the country’s conservative movement and were adopted by Bolsonaro’s supporters.

The former president repeatedly clashed with the judges of the Supreme Court, and the rioters smashed the room where they meet. They sprayed fire hoses inside the Congress building and ransacked offices in the presidential palace. Windows were broken in all buildings.

Bolsonaro, who flew to Florida ahead of Lula’s inauguration, denied the president’s accusations late Sunday night. He tweeted that peaceful protest is part of democracy, but vandalism and breaking into public buildings are “exceptions to the rule.”

Police fired tear gas in an attempt to rebuild the buildings, and in the late afternoon, television showed protesters marching down the ramp from the presidential palace with their hands tied behind their backs. By evening, as government control of the buildings was restored, Justice Minister Flavio Dino told a press conference that about 200 people had been arrested and police fired tear gas to disperse the long-drawn-out protesters.

But given the damage already done, many in Brazil wondered why the police ignored so many warnings, were unprepared, or were somehow involved.

Lula said at his press conference that the police showed “incompetence or bad faith” and that they were also complacent when Bolsonaro’s supporters rioted in the capital a few weeks ago. He promised that these officers would be punished and expelled from the corps.

The incident recalled the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 by supporters of then President Donald Trump. Political analysts have been warning for months that a similar assault is possible in Brazil, given that Bolsonaro sowed doubts about the reliability of the national e-voting system – without any evidence. The results have been recognized as legitimate by politicians across the spectrum, including some of Bolsonaro’s allies as well as dozens of foreign governments.

Unlike the 2021 attack in the US, few officials likely served in the Brazilian Congress and Supreme Court on Sunday.

US President Joe Biden told reporters that the unrest in Brazil was “outrageous.” His National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan went even further on Twitter and stated that the US “condemns any attempt to undermine democracy in Brazil.”

Biden later tweeted that he looked forward to continuing to work with Lula, calling the riots “an attack on democracy and the peaceful transition of power in Brazil.”

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley tweeted: “Violent attempts to undermine democracy in Brazil are unjustified. The @LulaOfficial president and the Brazilian government have the full support of the UK.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also said on Twitter that he condemns the attack on Brazil’s democratic institutions, but is confident that “the will of the Brazilian people and the country’s institutions” will be respected.

Earlier social media videos showed a limited presence of the Metropolitan Military Police; one showed officers standing by as people flooded into Congress, and one used his phone to record images. The Metropolitan Security Secretariat did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment on the relative absence of police.

“Brazilian authorities have had two years to learn from the Capitol invasion and prepare for something similar in Brazil,” said Mauricio Santoro, professor of political science at Rio de Janeiro State University. “Local security forces in Brasilia have systematically failed to prevent and respond to extremist activities in the city. And the new federal authorities, such as the ministers of justice and defense, failed to act decisively.”

The governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha, confirmed on Twitter that he had fired the head of the public security of the capital, Anderson Torres. Local media reported that Torres is currently in the US.

Attorney General Lula’s office petitioned the Supreme Court to have Torres jailed.

Bolsonaro’s supporters have been protesting Lula’s electoral victory since October 30, blocking roads, setting cars on fire and gathering outside military buildings, calling on the armed forces to intervene. The head of Brazil’s electoral body has rejected a request by Bolsonaro and his political party to annul ballots cast on most electronic voting machines.

“Two years after Jan. 6, Trump’s legacy continues to poison our hemisphere,” U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted, adding that he accused Bolsonaro of instigating action. “Defending democracy and holding malevolent actors accountable is essential.”

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