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Pro-Bolsonaro protesters storm Brazil's Congress

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

We start the program with these stunning scenes playing out in Brazil's capital.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

LIMBONG: Over the past few hours, supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Congress building, presidential offices and Supreme Court. Thousands of Bolsonaro's backers swept into the buildings in Brasilia, almost unchallenged by security. The images are reminiscent of the January 6 insurrection here in Washington just over two years ago. The massive breach came a week after the inauguration of the new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro in last year's bitterly fought election, an election that the far-right Bolsonaro and his supporters still refuse to accept he's lost. Joining us with the latest is NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hey.

LIMBONG: So can you start by walking us through what's been going on in the past few hours?

KAHN: Sure. It's been quite stunning. First, you have to know that supporters of Bolsonaro have been camped out a t army barracks around the country, and the largest contingent have been in Brasilia, the capital. They've been there for months, ever since Bolsonaro lost narrowly to Lula. They've been pleading for the army to overthrow the election results. Sometime around 3 this afternoon, the huge crowd began marching en masse toward the government center in Brasilia.

And as you were explaining, it's this large esplanade called the Three Powers. And you have the Supreme Court building, the Congress building and the presidential offices there. They were able to walk up the ramp of the congressional building, climb on the roof, began breaking windows. They actually appeared to have been able to breach all three buildings. It's Sunday, so there's no congressmen or justices there, and President Lula wasn't there either.

LIMBONG: And has Lula made any comments on this afternoon's events?

KAHN: Yes, he has. He was not in the capital. He was in Sao Paulo. And he came on live TV, and he was clearly angry and gave stern warnings to the rioters. He called them fascists, ultra-rightists and said that this vandalism is unprecedented in Brazil's history. He laid blame for the action of the rioters squarely on the shoulders of former President Jair Bolsonaro. He said it was his rhetoric that encouraged them to these actions. As you said, Bolsonaro never conceded loss, and his supporters say that the election was rigged and stolen from Bolsonaro. There is no proof of that whatsoever.

Bolsonaro is not in the country. He left days before Lula's inauguration, which was, as you said, just one week ago, in the same exact spot in Brasilia. Bolsonaro is in Florida, and it's unclear whether or when he is coming back to Brazil. Lula has appointed a new head of security for the federal district, the capitol, and he said that the new head of security will be reporting directly to him.

LIMBONG: And speaking of security, like, what happened? Why were so many people able to breach the buildings?

KAHN: We're going to hear a lot about that, a lot of scrutiny and focus on that in the next coming days. It seems like thousands of people were able to stream onto the massive esplanade with very little impedance by police. And so we'll be hearing a lot more about exactly what happened and those failures by the police.

LIMBONG: That was NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn. Carrie, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.