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LATIN AMERICA | 09-01-2023 21:54

Lula slams far-right 'terrorism' as Brazil clears pro-Bolsonaro protest camps

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva condemns "acts of terrorism," a day after a far-right mob stormed the seat of power, unleashing chaos on the Brazilian capital.

Brazilian security forces cleared protest camps Monday and arrested 1,500 people as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva condemned "acts of terrorism" after a far-right mob stormed the seat of power, unleashing chaos on the capital.

Hundreds of soldiers and police mobilised to dismantle an improvised camp outside the Army's headquarters in Brasília.

There, some 3,000 supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro had set up tents – used as a base for the sea of protesters who ran riot inside the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court for around four hours Sunday.

Lula, who took office on January 1 after a bitterly divisive election win over Bolsonaro, returned to work in the pillaged presidential palace, where AFP reporters saw the wreckage that remained of the previous day's havoc: trashed artwork and offices, shattered windows and doors, broken glass strewn across the floor, and furniture dragged into a reflecting pool.

Lula, the 77-year-old veteran leftist who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, met with the leaders of both houses of Congress and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and joined them in condemning what many called the South American country's version of the US Capitol riots in Washington two years ago. 

"The three powers of the republic, the defenders of democracy and the constitution, reject the terrorist acts and criminal, coup-mongering vandalism that occurred," they said in a joint statement.

Lula accepted an invitation to meet with US President Joe Biden next month in Washington, US officials said.

Bolsonaro, who narrowly lost the October elections, was meanwhile hospitalised with abdominal pains, his wife said. The former head of state has alleged he is the victim of a conspiracy against him by Brazil's courts and electoral authorities.

Media reports said the ex-president was admitted to hospital in Orlando, Florida, where the politician travelled on the second-to-last day of his term – snubbing Lula's inauguration, in a break with tradition.

It was the latest in a series of health problems stemming from a stabbing attack that nearly claimed Bolsonaro's life during his winning 2018 presidential campaign.

Bolsonaro, 67, took to Twitter Sunday night to condemn the "pillaging" in Brasília, but rejected Lula's claim he incited the attacks, and defended the right to "peaceful protests."


'Traces of Trumpism'

As the nation continued to come to grips with Sunday's stunning violence, hundreds of people gathered along a major avenue in downtown São Paulo to defend Brazilian democracy and demand punishment for the people who stormed the halls of power a day earlier. 

"I have not endured what I have in this life to see what I saw yesterday -- my people, my country, divided in such a way," said Edi Valladares, a 61-year-old teacher.

The demonstrators included young people, entire families, labor union activists, anti racism advocates and others, with banners reading "We are with Lula and for democracy" and "respect for the people's vote."

Earlier in the day, large contingents of riot police deployed to lock down the capital's Three Powers Square, home to the iconic modernist buildings that serve as the headquarters of the three branches of government.

Condemnation continued to pour in from around the world, with Pope Francis criticising the unrest as a sign of "weakening of democracy" in the Americas.

In a joint statement ahead of summit talks in Mexico City, Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attacks and said they "stand with Brazil as it safeguards its democratic institutions."

In a show of firm support, Biden spoke with Lula by phone Monday and invited him to visit the White House in early February. The Brazilian leader accepted, the White House said.

Biden told Lula of his support for "the free will of the Brazilian people as expressed in Brazil's recent presidential election, which President Lula won," the White House said in a statement.

Many drew the inevitable comparison to January 6, 2021, when supporters of then-US president Donald Trump invaded the Capitol in Washington in a violent, failed bid to stop Congress from certifying his election loss.


Investigation begins

Lula, who was in the southeastern city of Araraquara visiting a flood-hit region when the riot started, signed a decree Sunday declaring a federal intervention in Brasília, giving his government special powers over the local police force to restore law and order in the capital.

His government vowed to find and arrest those who planned and financed the attacks.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes suspended Brasília Governor Ibaneis Rocha, a Bolsonaro ally, from his post for 90 days, on grounds of "criminal negligence."

Moraes also ordered the security forces to disperse anti-government protests outside military bases nationwide.

Hardline Bolsonaro supporters have been protesting outside army barracks calling for a military intervention to keep Lula from power since his election win.

Following the ruling, soldiers and police broke up camps in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as Brasília.

Lula narrowly won the October 30 runoff election by a score of 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent.

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