Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Sunday pledged to punish hundreds of supporters of the country’s former leader Jair Bolsonaro after they stormed major government buildings, smashing windows and using furniture to form barricades against security forces.
In a news conference, Lula da Silva described events in the capital Brasilia as “barbaric” and said “a lack of security” had allowed Bolsonaro’s “fascist” supporters to breach barriers set up by the Armed Forces outside the congressional building, the Supreme Court and the Planalto Presidential Palace.
“These people are everything that is abominable in politics,” he said, adding that “all the people who did this will be found and punished.”
Footage Sunday showed massive crowds in Brasília walking up a ramp to the congressional building, where they had reached the Green Room, located outside the lower House of Congress’ chamber, Interim Senate President Veneziano Vital do Rogo told CNN Brasil.
Other outlets showed Bolsonaro suporters entering the Supreme Court and the presidential palace, where CNN Brasil showed the arrivals of anti-riot police and the Brazilian Armed Forces. The floor of the Congress building was flooded after the sprinkler system activated when protesters attempted to set fire to the carpet, according to CNN Brasil. Additional videos showed protesters inside the building taking gifts received from international delegations and destroying artwork.
Writing on Twitter Sunday, Bolsonaro also denounced the actions of his supporters, saying that although peaceful and lawful demonstrations were part of democracy, “depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, escape the rule.”
The breaches come about a week after the inauguration of Lula da Silva, whose return to power after a 12-year hiatus comes after he defeated Bolsonaro in a run-off election on October 30.
Bolsonaro’s administration previously said it was cooperating with the transition of power, but the far-right leader has stopped short of explicitly conceding his election loss, and he left the country for the United States prior to Lula da Silva’s inauguration.
By Sunday evening, several hours after the breaches, the three buildings had been cleared of protesters, CNN Brasil reported. At least 400 people have been arrested, according to Federal District Gov. Ibaneis Rocha.
Those arrested “will pay for the crimes committed” Rocha tweeted, adding that they are “working to identify all the others who participated in these terrorist acts this afternoon.”
Hours later, however, Rocha was suspended from his post for 90 days by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes.
The judge also ordered the military to dismantle all Bolsonaro supporters’ camps across the country within 24 hours and told police to arrest any protesters still on the streets, according to a court order.
Commanders from the armed forces, police and the defense minister would be held accountable in court if the camps were not dismantled, Moraes said, adding that all highways must be cleared on Monday.
Bolsonaro supporters had been camped out in the capital since his election defeat. Justice Minister Flavio Dino had authorized the Armed Forces to set up the barriers and guard the congressional building Saturday due to their continued presence.
Speaking to reporters after the unrest, Dino described Sunday’s events as “a coup” and said the government would strengthen security in the capital.
“There are still people on the internet saying that they are going to continue with terrorist acts. (But) they will not be able to destroy Brazilian democracy,” he added.
Paulo Pimenta, the Communications Minister, released a video Sunday evening of a walking tour of his office in the Planalto Palace. The video shows furniture overturned and offices along a corridor in disarray.
“I’m in my office on the second floor of the Planalto Palace, as you can see everything was destroyed,” Pimenta says in the video. “This is a criminal thing that was done here, this is a revolting thing. Works of art … Look what the vandals did here, the chaos the vandals made here. Destroyed works of art, the country’s heritage.”
Other Brazilian officials also condemned the actions of demonstrators, which were reminiscent of January 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the US Capitol in an effort to prevent the certification of the 2020 election and President Joe Biden’s win over former President Donald Trump.
“The National Congress has never denied a voice to those who want to demonstrate peacefully. But it will never give room for turmoil, destruction and vandalism,” Arthur Lira, president of the Lower House of Congress said on Twitter. “Those responsible for promoting and abetting this attack on Brazilian democracy and its main symbols must be identified and punished in accordance with the law.”
“Today is sad day for the Brazilian nation,” Valdemar Costa Neto, head of Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party said in a statement Sunday evening.
“We cannot agree with the depredation of the National Congress. All ordered manifestations are legitimate. Disorder has never been part of the principles of our nation,” Neto said. “I want to say to you that we strongly condemn this type of attitude. And that the law must be fulfilled, strengthening our democracy.”
Brazil’s Attorney General’s office (MPF) said in a statement it is investigating all involved in the breaches.
“The Attorney General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, monitors and follows with concern the acts of vandalism to public buildings that occur in Brasília this Sunday (8),” the MPF said.
Aras has also “requested the Attorney General’s Office in the Federal District (PRDF) to immediately open a criminal investigation procedure aimed at holding those involved accountable.”
Several hours after the breach, Brazil’s Federal District Military Police (PMDF) said in a statement they had begun dispersing pro-Bolsonaro protesters inside the buildings.
Those identified as taking part in “acts of vandalism” were taken to the police station, according to the PMDF.
Federal District Security Secretary Anderson Torres – and the former justice minister under Bolsonaro’s government – similarly called the scenes “regrettable,” adding that he had ordered “immediate steps to restore order in the center of Brasília.”
Torres, who was the Justice Minister under Bolsonaro, was appointed to the Federal District office by current governor Rocha but was dismissed after Sunday’s breaches.
Rocha posted a video on YouTube Sunday night apologizing for the storming of federal public buildings.
“What happened was unacceptable,” Rocha said. “We did not believe at all that the demonstrations would take on the proportions that they did. They are true vandals, true terrorists, and they will have every fight with me to punish them.”
Brazilian Federal Public Defender (AGU) asked the country’s Supreme Court to issue an arrest order for Torres and “other public agents responsible for acts and omissions.”
The AGU also requested the “immediate evacuation of all federal public buildings across the country, and the dissolution of anti-democratic acts carried out in the vicinity of barracks and other military units.”
US President Biden on Sunday condemned “the assault on democracy and the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil.”
“Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined,” Biden said on Twitter. He added that he looked forward to working with Brazilian President Lula da Silva.
Portugal’s government said in a statement it condemns “the acts of violence and disorder that took place today in Brasilia” and pledged support for authorities “in restoring order and legality.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, joined other world leaders in offering support to President Lula: “The will of the Brazilian people and democratic institutions must be respected! President Lula da Silva can count on the unconditional support of France,” Macron said on Twitter.
The President of the European Council Charles Michel also condemned “the assault on the democratic institutions of Brazil” and pledged his support to the Brazilian president, as did Spain and Colombia.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also condemned the “assault on Brazil’s democratic institutions.”
“The will of the Brazilian people and the country’s institutions must be respected,” he said.