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Brazil's state organs slam 'terrorist' pro-Bolsonaro riots

January 9, 2023

Brazil's president, Congress and its top court have jointly said Jair Bolsonaro supporters committed "terrorist acts" when storming government buildings in the capital. An investigation has also been launched.

Members of the military work at a camp left by supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, outside the Army Headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil, January 9, 2023.
Camps set up by Bolsonaro's supporters, in this case outside the Army Headquarters, were dismantled on MondayImage: Amanda Perobelli/REUTERS

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, leaders of both houses of Congress and the chief justice of the Supreme Court issued a rare joint statement on Monday condemning violent actions by far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro's supporters on the weekend.

The heads of the three branches of government said they "reject the terrorist acts and criminal, coup-mongering vandalism that occurred" Sunday in the capital, Brasilia, when a pro-Bolsonaro mob stormed the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court.

Authorities in Brazil also launched an investigation into the incidents on Monday.

The protesters — who were demanding that the newly elected president, known familiarly as Lula, be ousted —  left a trail of destruction in scenes that echoed the 2021 US Capitol invasion by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Brazil's government vows tough response to riots

What are investigators doing?

Brazil's Institutional Relations Minister Alexandre Padilha said the vandalized buildings would be inspected for evidence including fingerprints and images to find the culprits. 

He said the rioters apparently intended to spark similar actions nationwide. 

Justice Minister Flavio Dino equated the acts to terrorism and the stoking of a coup. He said authorities had started tracking those who paid for buses that transported protesters to the capital.

"They will not succeed in destroying Brazilian democracy," Dino said. "We need to say that fully, with all firmness and conviction."

"We will not accept the path of criminality to carry out political fights in Brazil. A criminal is treated like a criminal."

Bolsonaro supporters storm government buildings in Brasilia

Brazil's Justice Ministry said on Monday that 1,200 people had been detained so far in total, while some 230 suspected rioters were arrested on Sunday. 

Brazilian police on Monday deployed at a camp of Bolsonaro supporters near Brasilia's army headquarters.

Questions over Bolsonaro's future

Bolsonaro, who left Brazil for the US state of Florida on the second-to-last day of his term, has rejected the accusation that he had spurred on the protesters. He said peaceful demonstrations were democratic but the assault on government buildings had "crossed the line."

US President Joe Biden is now facing mounting pressure to remove Bolsonaro from his self-imposed exile in the southern US state.

"Bolsonaro should not be in Florida," Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro 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."

Fellow Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed that opinion.

"The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida," she wrote on Twitter. "Nearly two years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil."

Meanwhile, later on Monday, Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that the former president had been admitted to hospital in Orlando, Florida, with "strong abdominal pains."

What is the US stance on Brazil attacks?

The US president discussed the unrest in a phone call with Lula Monday.

"President Biden conveyed the unwavering support of the United States for Brazil's democracy," the White House said in a statement. 

Biden also invited Lula to visit him next month.

The phone call between the two leaders comes after Biden, together with Canada's Justin Trudeau and Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador condemned the Sunday attacks and pledged to "support the free will of the people of Brazil."

Repercussions for senior officials

President Lula had earlier read a freshly signed decree for the federal government to assume control of security in the federal district. Lula was visiting the flood-hit city of Araraquara in the state of Sao Paulo when the attacks happened, but flew back to Brasilia to oversee the response. 

Lula said that "fascist fanatics,'' as well as those who financed their activities, should be punished, and also accused Bolsonaro of encouraging the uprising.

Brasilia Governor Ibaneis Rocha fired the security chief of the capital, Anderson Torres, who was previously Bolsonaro's justice minister.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court magistrate Alexandre de Moraes ordered that Rocha himself should relinquish his post for 90 days.

The office of Brazil's attorney general said it had asked the Supreme Court to issue arrest warrants for Torres "and all other public officials responsible for acts and omissions" that had led to the unrest.

There has been international condemnation of the violent protests that centered on Brasilia's Three Powers Square.

Social media platforms monitor content, blocking calls for violence

Upon the Brazilian government's request, social media companies started clearing their respective platforms of any content which incited violence, the Reuters news agency reported.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, told Reuters the Sunday riots in Brasilia were designated as "a violent event," and therefore any content that supports or praises it would be removed.

"We are actively following the situation and will continue removing content that violates our policies," a Meta spokesperson told Reuters.

Google's YouTube platform similarly said it was "closely tracking" the situation, and that its Trust and Safety team was removing content which violated their Community Guidelines. That included "livestreams and videos inciting violence," a spokesperson said. 

"We will remain vigilant as the situation continues to unfold," the spokesperson told Reuters.

Messaging app Telegram also told the news agency it was working with the Brazilian government to fact check groups and prevent the spread of content which incites violence. The company said despite its support to the right to free speech and peaceful protest, it strictly forbade calls to violence.

"Our moderators use a combination of proactive monitoring in public-facing parts of our platform in addition to accepting user reports, in order to remove such content," a Telegram spokesperson said.

Ahead of Sunday's events, Bolsonaro supporters had shared on social media their plans to mobilize, group and break into the vital government buildings.

rc/rs (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)