Security was boosted in Brasilia Wednesday amid simmering tensions ahead of fresh protests by backers of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro and the pending arrest one of his allies just days after riots shocked the Brazilian capital.
Roads leading to the Esplanade of Ministries were blocked to traffic and pedestrians, deputy justice minister Ricardo Cappelli told reporters, as Bolsonaro fans vowed fresh “mega” protests to “take power back” from his successor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The esplanade houses all government ministries as well as the Square of Three Powers — the presidency, Congress and Supreme Court all targeted in Sunday’s violent uprising.
Demonstrations were also planned for Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities in a country left deeply divided by a vitriolic campaign for October elections in which leftist Lula narrowly beat far-right Bolsonaro.
Ever since Bolsonaro’s defeat, his most hard-core defenders have been clamoring for the military to launch a coup against Lula.
And on Sunday, hundreds clad in the yellow-and-green colors of the Brazilian flag — coopted by Bolsonaro and his backers as a symbol of nationalist fervor — stormed the symbolic seats of power.
Dubbed “fanatical fascists” by Lula, they clashed with police, beat up journalists, and left a trail of property destruction in their wake.
Hundreds have been arrested and Brasilia has been quiet, though tense, since the police on Monday rounded up so-called “bolsonaristas” who had been camped out in the capital since October.
On Wednesday, they put out another call for demonstrations in dozens of cities.
– ‘Crazy people’ –
“All the public security forces are mobilized,” Cappelli told reporters in the capital.
“There is no scenario under which the unacceptable events that occurred on the 8th (of January) will be repeated,” he added.
Cappelli was appointed by Lula to command the Brasilia security forces after Sunday’s riots, which saw clashes with police and extensive damage to government buildings.
In scenes strongly reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol, “bolsonaristas” tore paintings and damaged furniture, broke windows and invaded the offices of judges, lawmakers and the presidency itself.
The full extent of the damage is still being assessed and authorities are working to identify the organizers and financiers of the uprising.
Lula, who met members of Congress in Brasilia on Wednesday, described the protesters as “a group of crazy people who do not understand that the election is over.”
On Tuesday, the authorities issued arrest warrants for two former senior officials over the riots, including Anderson Torres, who was Bolsonaro’s justice minister.
He was fired as Brasilia security chief, along with military police chief Fabio Augusto, after Sunday’s stunning scenes.
While Augusto is reportedly already in custody, Torres is expected to arrive in Brazil any moment from vacation in the United States.
He is charged with “omission” of his duties and “collusion” with the protesters.
Torres and Bolsonaro, also in the United States where he received medical care, have both denied any involvement in Sunday’s events.
The security forces in Brasilia have come under stinging criticism over their response to the riot.
Video posted on social media showed some of them filming the violence rather than intervening to halt it.
More than 600 people out of an initial 1,500 detained following the riots remained under arrest Tuesday.