A demonstrator reacts next to security forces as supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro leave a camp in front of the the Army Headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil, January 9, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Brazil’s capital Brasilia was rocked today as thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s top government institutions including the country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices.

The attack comes in the backdrop of claims that Brazil’s recently concluded presidential election was stolen — a conspiracy theory advanced by Bolsonaro and his right-wing allies.

The rioting has come just a week after Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the new president, took office. Neither house of Congress is currently in session in Brazil and Lula was not at the presidential palace when it was stormed.

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News reports and social media images from Brasilia showed rioters taking over and ransacking top government buildings. It took several hours for the country’s security forces to regain control of the federal facilities.

Hundreds of arrests were carried out through the night. Police said more than 400 people had been taken into custody.

What led to the riot?

In the run up to Monday’s violence, protesters — citing rigged elections — were demanding that the military prevent the newly elected president, Lula, from taking office. Things came to a boil today as thousands of Bolsonaro’s radical backers breached the presidential office building, Congress and Supreme Court.

This is one of the most shocking attacks in the history of Brazil since the 1964 military coup.

Rioters could be seen on videos smashing windows, furniture and carrying out acts of vandalism in several federal facilities. Some took selfies in scenes reminiscent of the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol.

Brazil’s Communications Minister Paulo Pimenta told media that several precious works of art have also been damaged during rioting.

Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro clash with riot police as they invade Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia Image Credit: AFP

What are both sides saying?

President Lula has announced a federal security intervention in Brasília. This brings policing under the direct control of the central government until January 31.

Lula, who was visiting Sao Paulo, returned to capital to take stock of the situation. The president is likely to meet with the heads of Congress and Supreme Court, as well as state governors who are all expected to fly into Brasilia.

Brazil: How the attack unfolded - a timeline
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

“There’s no precedent for this in the history of our country,” Lula said in televised comments, vowing to prosecute the rioters.

Former president Bolsonaro, whose supporters led the attacks, is said to be in Orlando, Florida. The far-right leader responded to the attacks on Congress with social media posts defending his record in government while saying invasion of public buildings crossed the line.

“Peaceful demonstrations, within the law, form part of democracy,” he wrote on Twitter. “However, depredations and invasions of public buildings like those that happened today, as well as those practised by the left in 2013 and 2017, are exceptions to the rule.”

World wide reactions

US President Joe Biden called the storming in Brasilia “outrageous”. “I condemn the assault on democracy and on 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.

UN secretary general, António Guterres, called Brazil “a great democratic country” and said he was confident the “will of the Brazilian people and the country’s institutions” would be respected.

“I condemn any attempt to undermine the peaceful transfer of power and the democratic will of the people of Brazil,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Twitter.

“Bolsonaro should not be in Florida,” Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro told CNN.”

France’s Emmanuel Macron said Lula could count on his country’s “unwavering support” and that the “will of the Brazilian people and the democratic institutions must be respected”.

(With inputs from agencies)