Bolsonaro backers deface Congress in ugly anti-Lula stand


Planalto Presidential Palace security members walk along one of the entrances of the building destroyed by supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro during an invasion in Brasilia on January 9, 2023. PHOTO | AFP

Decked out in the colours of Brazil's national flag, supporters of vanquished ex-president Jair Bolsonaro smashed windows and sowed destruction as they barged into Congress Sunday clamouring for "military intervention."

The sea of yellow-and-green clad "bolsonaristas" flooding up the ramps leading to the roof of the modernist Congress building starkly evoked a similar attack: the storming of the US Capitol building in Washington by supporters of then-president Donald Trump -- a Bolsonaro ally -- almost exactly two years ago.

Some forced their way into the legislative offices of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, leaving defacement in their wake as a mark of hostility to leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, inaugurated exactly a week earlier.

Unlike the Capitol attack, which happened on a Wednesday, Brazil's Congress was not staffed, it being a weekend.

Outside the building, an irate crowd braved the rain and clouds of tear gas to hurl insults and objects at the police.

Some assaulted and robbed an AFP photographer as helicopters flew overhead, dropping tear gas canisters.

"We patriots were robbed at the polls by Lula," 49-year-old civil servant Isabella Silva told AFP among the throngs.

"I want the armed forces to take power and clean up Congress; do a general cleanup," she said, echoing the demands of her fellow protesters.

'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.

Outside Congress, the protesters also left a trail of destruction, with police patrol cars vandalized. At least one was burnt.

Some made off with police batons.

"We do not recognize this government because it is illegitimate," said Victor Rodrigues who, like hundreds of other "bolsonaristas" have remained camped outside the army headquarters in Brasilia since Bolsonaro's defeat to demand an intervention.

Sarah Lima, a production engineer who traveled 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) to join the protesters with her 19-month-old twin girls, said she wanted a vote recount to confirm whether Lula's victory "really was true or not."

She and her daughters, like many others in the crowd, were dressed in the jersey of the Selecao national football team appropriated by Bolsonaro and his backers as a symbol of nationalist fervor.

As the police retook the Congress building, protests continued on the esplanade outside.

Rodrigues, who said his shop was "practically" closed because of his long-running commitment to Bolsonaro's return, has no plans of quitting.

"We won't back down," he told AFP. "We'll get out of here (Congress) but we will be back."

Bolsonaro, who like Trump has not conceded his defeat to Lula in October elections, condemned Sunday's "pillaging and invasions."

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