Brazilian police dismantle anti-government protest camps

Brazilian police have begun dismantling dozens of anti-government protest camps across the country following a day of violence in which supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro raided the country’s Congress, supreme court and presidential palace.

Heavily armed police started on Monday to clear clusters of radical Bolsonaro supporters who since his election defeat in October to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have camped outside army bases, claiming the result was rigged and calling for a coup.

Local media estimated about 5,000 demonstrators had joined the camps, scores of whom were arrested in Monday’s operation.

The security forces also cleared protesters in São Paulo, who for two hours had blocked a key highway with burning tyres.

The police action followed the detention on Sunday of more than 300 pro-Bolsonaro activists, who were among thousands who stormed the nation’s institutions in the capital Brasília. Their actions triggered a national outcry and almost universal condemnation from across the political spectrum and internationally.

Reminiscent of the US Capitol invasion two years ago by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, the riots presented an immediate crisis for Lula’s administration, which took office on January 1.

“Their demand was for military intervention, for a military coup,” said Beatriz Rey, a political researcher at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “We have a portion of the population that does not agree with democracy and this is extremely serious.”

Soldiers remove items from the camp in Brasília on Monday © Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

The ease with which the rioters stormed the buildings also raised questions about the loyalty of the nation’s security forces to the new leftwing leader.

Following the raids, Alexandre de Moraes, a supreme court judge, ordered the suspension for 90 days of the governor of Brasília, Ibaneis Rocha, for being “painfully absent” from his duties.

De Moraes also ordered that pro-Bolsonaro encampments outside army bases across the nation be cleared within 24 hours.

Lula, who took office at the start of the month, has called the demonstrators “vandals and fascists” and vowed they would be punished. Law enforcement officials are now trying to track down the incident’s organisers and financiers.

Security staff inspect damage at the presidential palace in Brasília caused by supporters of Bolsonaro on Sunday
Security staff inspect damage at the presidential palace in Brasília caused by supporters of Bolsonaro on Sunday © Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Bolsonaro, who is in Florida, said on Sunday that the demonstrators’ actions had “crossed the line”. But he is facing intense criticism for his longstanding encouragement of radical elements within his rightwing movement.

“Bolsonaro is in a complicated situation. When he decided to speak out yesterday, it was absolutely defensive,” said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at the Insper Institute of Education and Research in São Paulo.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a US Democratic congresswoman, called for “the US [to] cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida”.

Joe Biden, the US president, quickly condemned the riots as an “assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power”, adding that “Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined”.

Brazil’s main Bovespa stock index was steady at the open on Monday morning, while the real currency slid 0.9 per cent to trade at 5.29 against the US dollar.

William Jackson, of the consultancy Capital Economics, said: “The implications of the invasion of Brazil’s Congress by protesters yesterday are mainly political.

“But the riots could result in a long-lasting risk premium on the country’s financial assets, particularly if they prompt Lula to double down on his economic agenda,” he added. This is a reference to the president’s focus on increased social welfare and opposition to the country’s constitutional cap on public spending.

Tiago Cunha, a portfolio manager at Ace Capital, said: “We should pay attention to the consequences [of Sunday’s events] — any truckers going on strike is much more important than a riot in an empty Brasília. Further and deeper reactions from the supreme court can also ignite more riots.”

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