Supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday attempted to invade the federal police headquarters in Brasilia, the capital, protesting the arrest of an indigenous leader in the first major flash of post-election violence.
Television images, as well as videos shared by federal police officers with Reuters, showed burned-out cars, a bus that had been set on fire, and the sound of explosions and what appeared to be rubber bullets being fired.
Bolsonaro supporters, wearing their trademark yellow national soccer jerseys, could be seen rushing from the scene with sticks and throwing rubble. In another video, they could be seen trying to push a bus off a bridge in Brasilia.
The attempted invasion came after Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who has led probes into Bolsonaro and his allies, on Monday ordered the temporary arrest of José Acácio Serere Xavante for allegedly carrying out anti-democratic acts.
It came on the same day that the federal electoral court (TSE) certified the Oct. 30 election victory of Bolsonaro's leftist rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as president. After months of baseless suggestions that the electronic voting system is liable to fraud, Bolsonaro has yet to concede defeat to Lula, but he has not blocked the handover of power.
The incident rekindles memories of the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro's political idol. It also raises security concerns about Jan. 1, when Lula takes office in a public ceremony in Brasilia.
Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, a key Lula aide, said there were concerns about the physical safety of Lula and Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin, as protesters had surrounded the hotel where he is staying in Brasilia. However, Lula's team denied reports that Lula would be removed from the hotel by chopper.
Brazil's incoming justice minister, Flavio Dino, tweeted that Lula's security was guaranteed.
WEEKS OF PROTESTS
Many of Bolsonaro's supporters have refused to accept the president's defeat, camping outside military bases across the country, urging the Armed Forces to overturn the result. Xavante, the indigenous leader, is one of the people involved in such protests.
"I cannot accept criminals reigning in Brasil," Xavante tweeted last month. "Lula cannot be certified."
On Monday, Bolsonaro met with hundreds of supporters in Brasilia and watched in silence, hugging young children, as they prayed for him. Last week, breaking weeks of post-election silence, Bolsonaro said his situation "hurts my soul."
"Who decides where I go are you. Who decides which way the armed forces go are you," Bolsonaro told his supporters at the gates of the presidential residence on Friday.
In its statement, the Supreme Court said Moraes "decreed the temporary arrest, for 10 days, of the indigenous José Acácio Serere Xavante, due to evidence of the commission of crimes of threat, persecution and violent abolition of the Democratic State of Law."
It said Xavante had led protests across Brasilia and had used "his position as chief of the Xavante people to enlist indigenous and non-indigenous people to commit crimes," threatening Lula and Supreme Court justices.
Xavante had "expressly summoned armed people to prevent the certification of elected" politicians, the statement added.
Tensions spilled over after the arrest.
Flavio Dino, tweeted earlier on Monday that "the depredation and attempted invasion of the Federal Police building in Brasilia are unacceptable. Court orders must be complied with by the Federal Police. Those who consider themselves harmed must offer the appropriate resources, never practice political violence."
The Federal Police did not respond to a request for comment.
Brasilia's public security office said it had secured the area around Lula's hotel, and urged motorists to avoid the center of the city where many roads had been closed.
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