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400 arrested as supporters of ex-President Bolsonaro storm Brazil government buildings

Chaos struck Brazil’s capital Sunday when supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro descended on government buildings, breached them, climbed on a rooftop and broke windows.

Video depicted damage to an office in the presidential palace, as well as broken windows in the country’s highest court.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, sworn in Jan. 1, responded by authorizing federal intervention in the Federal District until the end of January. 

He called those who attacked Congress “fascists,” according to translations of his tweets Sunday.

“Whoever did this will be found and punished. Democracy guarantees the right to free expression, but it also requires people to respect institutions,” Lula tweeted. “There is no precedent in the history of the country what they did today. For that they must be punished.” 

Authorities used tear gas and clashed with the demonstrators, according to video from the scene distributed by news organization Reuters.

Many among the demonstrators wore the national colors of Brazil, yellow and green, associated in recent years with Bolsonaro supporters.

Lula visited the scene of the unrest late Sunday, Brazil’s TV Globo reported.

Supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro rifle through papers on a desk after storming the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on Jan. 8, 2023.Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rifle through papers on a desk after having stormed the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on Sunday.Eraldo Peres / AP

Ibaneis Rocha, the governor of Brazil’s capital district, said more than 400 people involved in the demonstrations and breaches have been arrested.

He said authorities continued to work to restore order. Rocha described the day’s events as acts of terrorism.

The incidents, which recalled the Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of the U.S. Capitol, come amid disinformation about the election, aimed mostly at Lula.

“The electoral cycle was marked by the use of public resources for campaigning and a sophisticated disinformation network,” the nonprofit Carter Center said in November after having observed the presidential election.

“Most attacks targeted the Lula campaign,” it said.

Lula accused the mob of taking advantage of the quiet Sunday as his administration was still moving into government. He then took direct aim at Bolsonaro.

Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the the National Congress building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro storm the National Congress building in Brasilia on Sunday.Eraldo Peres / AP

“And you know that there are several speeches by the former president encouraging this,” Lula said. “And this is also his responsibility and the parties that supported him.”

Bolsonaro denied Lula’s assertions on Twitter, saying he has always respected the tenets of Democracy. He compared the situation to left-wing uprisings in 2013 and 2017 and said all such violence against government is illegal.

President Joe Biden denounced the assault.

“I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil,” he tweeted. “Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., drew an explicit comparison between the chaos and former President Donald Trump’s supporters.

“Democracies of the world must act fast to make clear there will be no support for right-wing insurrectionists storming the Brazilian Congress,” Raskin wrote. “These fascists modeling themselves after Trump’s Jan. 6 rioters must end up in the same place: prison.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tweeted his support for Brazil’s new government Sunday, calling the event a “coup attempt.”

“Reprehensible and undemocratic the coup attempt by the conservatives in Brazil encouraged by the oligarchic power leadership, their spokespersons and fanatics,” he wrote. “Lula is not alone, he has the support of the progressive forces of his country, Mexico, the American continent and the world.”

Bolsonaro supporters have been protesting Lula’s win since Oct. 30, blocking roads, setting vehicles on fire and gathering outside military buildings asking armed forces to intervene.

The Superior Electoral Court rejected voter fraud claims from Bolsonaro and his party in November. The justice who made the ruling, Alexandre de Moraes, described the legal filing as bad faith litigation.

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