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Brazilian troops clear pro-Bolsonaro camp after protesters storm capital

Brazil riot police deploy at Bolsonaro backers' camp after capital stormed
Brazil riot police deploy at Bolsonaro backers' camp after capital stormed Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
By Reuters
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By Anthony Boadle and Sergio Queiroz

BRASILIA -Brazilian soldiers backed by police dismantled a camp of supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro in the capital on Monday, a day after rioters launched the worst attack on state institutions since the country's return to democracy in the 1980s.

After thousands of Bolsonaro's backers stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace on Sunday, police in riot gear amassed at the pro-Bolsonaro camp outside Brasilia's army headquarters, while troops took down tents, Reuters witnesses said. The protesters were dispersed.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro's leftist rival who took office on Jan. 1 after a narrow October election win, promised to bring those responsible for the violence to justice, after demonstrators broke windows and furniture, destroyed art work and stole guns and artifacts.

Lula, who was back at work at the Planalto presidential palace, met with his defense minister and the armed forces commanders to discuss the attacks that recalled the assault on the U.S. Capitol two years ago by backers of former President Donald Trump.

U.S. President Joe Biden joined other world leaders in condemning Sunday's riots, calling them "outrageous," while Bolsonaro, who is now in Florida, denied inciting his supporters and said the rioters had "crossed the line."

Bolsonaro was admitted to a hospital in Florida on Monday, a source close to his family said, adding that his condition was "not worrying."

Pro-Bolsonaro truckers, who have caused havoc on Brazil's highways for weeks, held more protests through the night.

A toll road operator for the BR 163 highway that cuts through Brazil's top grain-producing state Mato Grosso reported several blockades that were cleared by dawn. Police said blockages on another highway in Parana state were also cleared.

"There are still people trying to block roads and access to oil refineries," presidential spokesman Paulo Pimenta told reporters. State-run oil company Petrobras said its refinery operations and fuel supplies had not been affected.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered the governor of Brasilia removed from office late on Sunday for 90 days over alleged security failings and demanded that social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and TikTok block accounts of users spreading anti-democratic propaganda.

Facebook parent Meta said on Monday it was removing content supporting or praising the weekend actions. Telegram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brazil's financial markets held steady, with the Bovespa benchmark stock index edging higher in afternoon trading. Some analysts said Sunday's violence could strengthen Lula politically and impact policy in Latin America's largest economy.

'FASCIST' ASSAULT

Lula, a former union organizer who was also president from 2003 to 2010, said the local militarized police force that reports to Brasilia Governor Ibaneis Rocha, a former Bolsonaro ally, had done nothing to stop the protesters from advancing.

Lula decreed federal intervention of public security in the capital and promised exemplary punishment for the leaders of the "fascist" assault that he said was aimed at provoking a military coup that could restore Bolsonaro to power.

"All the people who did this will be found and punished," Lula, speaking from Sao Paulo state, told reporters on Sunday night.

He blamed Bolsonaro, whose four years in power were marked by divisive nationalist populism, for inflaming his supporters after a campaign of baseless allegations about election fraud.

From Florida, where Bolsonaro flew to 48 hours before his term ended, the former president rejected the accusation. He said on Twitter that peaceful demonstrations were democratic but the invasion of government buildings "crossed the line."

The assault raised questions among Lula's allies about how security forces in the capital were so unprepared for rioters who had discussed their plans on social media for days.

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

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

Justice Minister Flavio Dino said 200 demonstrators had been arrested, although that number is expected to rise.

Dino said investigations aimed to uncover who financed the several hundred buses that brought Bolsonaro's supporters to Brasilia and question the suspended Brasilia governor.

Bolsonaro faces legal risks from several investigations before the Supreme Court in Brazil and his future in the United States, where he traveled on a visa issued to heads of state, diplomats and other government officials, is in question.

"Bolsonaro should not be in Florida," Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democratic lawmaker in the U.S. Congress, said on CNN. "The United States should not be a refuge for this authoritarian who has inspired domestic terrorism in Brazil. He should be sent back to Brazil."

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