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Thousands of protesters supporting former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s key government buildings in the capital Sunday, a little over a week after a new leftist president took office, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Demonstrators dressed in Brazil’s national green and yellow colors charged into the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court, destroying windows, furniture and documents. After nearly five hours of rioting, police were able to clear the attackers from the government buildings.
At least 400 people have been arrested, according to the Washington Post.
The attack followed the swearing in of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Jan. 1. Lula defeated Bolsonaro in an October runoff election with 51 percent of the vote, in what has been described as Brazil’s closest presidential race.
Bolsonaro – who left for the US shortly before Lula’s inauguration – has yet to publicly concede the defeat and has called the election results unfair. For months, the conservative leader claimed major fraud occurred during the October election, polarizing the country’s electorate.
Many of his supporters have protested Lula’s win and camped outside army bases across Brazil to call for the army to keep Bolsonaro in power. Last month, pro-Bolsonaro protesters clashed with police, burned buses and tried to force their way into the Federal Police headquarters in Brasília.
Bolsonaro has condemned the violence but has said in previous speeches and broadcasts that “nothing is lost” and urged his supporters not to “throw in the towel.”
Following Sunday’s events, Lula – who was not in the presidential palace at the time – called the protesters “fanatic fascists” and accused his predecessor of inciting his supporters.
Bolsonaro rejected the accusations and condemned Sunday’s storming.
The US, the European Union and countries across Latin American condemned the attacks.
The assault highlighted Lula’s struggle in leading a deeply divided nation, fractured in the aftermath of the closest election in Brazilian history and poisoned by the global era of toxic politics, the Wall Street Journal said.
The leftist leader is also facing ranks of police who remain tacit supporters of Bolsonaro, who have favored heavy-handed police techniques and stacked their senior ranks with loyalists during his presidency, the Washington Post noted. Lula accused security forces of failing to contain the protesters quickly and called for the prosecution of all involved in the attack, including police officers.
Some political analysts compared Sunday’s incident to the violence in the US two years ago, when supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to halt the counting of Electoral College ballots that would confirm Joe Biden as the new president.
“It shows just how many challenges are ahead for democracy,” Rafael Cortez, a political scientist at the São Paulo-based consulting firm Tendências, told the Journal.