Bolsonaro supporters protest in Brazil

Thousands of supporters of Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential offices in the capital Brasilia on Sunday (January 8).

They broke windows, set off fires, fought with the police, and raised slogans. They draped themselves in Brazilian flags, announced that the country and Congress belonged to them, and filmed their actions on cell phones. The situation is under control now.

Supporters of the far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, who lost last year’s presidential election narrowly to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro had long claimed that Brazil’s election system was rotten with fraud, and that the entrenched elite was plotting to remove him from power.

He had been quiet since being edged out by Lula in the runoff election on October 31, but his supporters, who are convinced that a cabal of the “establishment”, elites, and the media had “stolen” the election, have been growing increasingly restive.

Bolsonaro’s supporters had demanded that the Brazilian military step in and prevent President Lula from assuming charge of the country on January 1. Between the announcement of Lula’s victory and now, they had clashed several times with police, set official vehicles on fire, and protested violently. After Lula was inaugurated, they carried out an online campaign to mobilise people to gather at the seats of government and justice on January 8 for a mass demonstration.

On Sunday afternoon, the Bolsonarists marched up to Brasilia’s Praça dos Três Poderes, or Three Powers Square, where the three buildings housing the country’s three branches of power are located. The main group of protesters walked about 8 km in a procession from the military headquarters where they had been gathering for weeks, and entered the Three Powers plaza through the Esplanada dos Ministérios, or Ministries Promenade, where the ministerial buildings are located.

They apparently faced no resistance from police or security forces anywhere during their march through the city.

Media reports said police used rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas to dispel the protesters. Helicopters hovered overhead, and eventually, the military moved in to help retake some of the government buildings from the protesters, The NYT report said.

President Lula, who was not in Brasilia and arrived on the scene in the evening, blamed Bolsonaro squarely for the violence, saying he “triggered” it. “He spurred attacks on the three powers whenever he could. This is also his responsibility,” Lula said in an address to the nation, The NYT reported.

The President invoked emergency powers allowing the federal government to take “any measures necessary” to restore order in the capital, Minister of Justice Flávio Dino said an investigation was underway, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Rosa Weber said all those responsible for security in Brasilia would be investigated, the BBC reported.

“There is no precedent for what these people have done, and for that, these people must be punished,” The NYT report quoted Lula as saying.

The former president is believed to be in Florida, United States where he flew in late December last year.

About 1,500 supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro have been detained after the Congress building, presidential palace and Supreme Court were ransacked on SundaySecurity forces are clearing protest camps outside the army’s headquarters in Brasília, where some 3,000 Bolsonaro supporters had set up tents