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Security forces regain control after Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil's Congress

Sergio Lima
AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro invade the National Congress in Brasilia on Sunday.

Updated January 8, 2023 at 10:08 PM ET

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress and other buildings in the capital of Brasília on Sunday, calling for the military to take over Brazil's government.

By evening, security forces had retaken control of the breached buildings, said Flávio Dino, the minister of justice and public security. Dino said about 200 people had been arrested, while the district's governor said more than 400 had been arrested.

Many Bolsonaro supporters have refused to accept the far-right former leader's defeat in elections more than two months ago to the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was sworn in as president a week ago.

In addition to the Congress building, videos and photos of the scenes posted to social media also showed crowds invading and ransacking the nearby presidential palace and Supreme Court. Swarms of Bolsonaro supporters, known as "Bolsonaristas," were seen charging past security barriers and clashing with police who appeared to be using pepper spray against them.

Congressional offices were closed as the mob moved up the ramp of the Congress building and climbed on the roof and broke windows.

Some of the crowd, many draped in the Brazilian national flag or its colors, looked to be recording the invasion on their phones.

Eraldo Peres / AP
Supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro sit in front of police after inside Planalto Palace after storming it, in Brasilia, Brazil on Sunday. Planalto is the official workplace of the president of Brazil.
Sergio Lima / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro break a window as they invade Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia on Sunday.

President da Silva, who was away in São Paulo state, called the storming an act of "barbarism" by a mob of "fascists."

"Whoever did this will be found and punished," he wrote on Twitter. "Democracy guarantees the right to free expression, but it also requires people to respect institutions. There is no precedent in the history of the country what they did today. For that they must be punished."

He also blamed a lack of security for the events. In a news conference following the attack, da Silva announced his appointment of a new head of security in the federal district, who will be reporting directly to him.

Eraldo Peres / AP
Supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro protest outside the Planalto Palace building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday.

Dino said the federal government sent reinforcements, in addition to the available forces he said were already at work.

"This absurd attempt" to impose their will by force will not prevail, he said in a tweet earlier in the day.

Since da Silva's narrow defeat of Bolsonaro in October, Bolsonaro supporters have been protesting the win by camping out in front of army barracks around the country, blocking roads, and calling for armed forces to intervene and overturn the election.

Evaristo Sa / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro clash with the police during a demonstration outside Brazil's National Congress headquarters in Brasilia on Sunday.

Bolsonaro, a populist in the mold of former U.S. President Donald Trump, has sown doubts about the legitimacy of the election, and has refused to concede defeat.

The former Brazilian president left the country for Florida late last month.

Tweeting on Sunday evening, Bolsonaro criticized the riots, writing that peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy, but that "depredations and invasions of public buildings" are not. He also rejected da Silva's comments that he bore some responsibility for the attack, saying those claims lacked evidence.

The scenes mirrored that of the Jan. 6, 2021 invasion of the U.S. Capitol, coming just two days after the second anniversary.

The incoming administration had previously downplayed fears of a Jan. 6-style insurrection in Brazil ahead of da Silva's inauguration, which convened without incident.

World leaders condemn "anti-democratic" attack on Brazil's institutions

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned "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," he said on Twitter. "I look forward to continuing to work with @LulaOficial."

The European Union's top diplomat said the EU strongly condemns the "anti-democratic acts of violence" on Brazil's federal quarter. "Brazilian democracy will prevail over violence and extremism," read a statement from High Representative Josep Borrell.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric signaled his country's full support to Brazil in the face of "cowardly and vile attack on democracy."

Alongside Chile, Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for a meeting of the Organization of American States — a body comprising most of the countries in North and South America.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called the mob's actions "inexcusable and fascist in nature" and represent a "direct attack on democracy."

French President Emmanuel Macron wrote that the "will of the Brazilian people and the democratic institutions must be respected! President @LulaOficial can count on France's unwavering support."

Carrie Kahn contributed reporting.

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