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Security forces in Brazil regain control after Bolsonaro supporters storm Congress

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has returned to the capital, Brasilia. He's come back to survey the damage from an attack yesterday on the Brazilian Congress and other government buildings.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST, GUNFIRE)

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

Thousands of supporters of former president, Jair Bolsonaro, marched across the capital to the plaza that houses Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices. President Lula da Silva called the rioters fascists and said they will be identified and punished.

FADEL: NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn is in Brasilia. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So this sounds very familiar, a lot like what the U.S. experienced on January 6 at the Capitol building two years ago. What motivated these supporters of Bolsonaro to storm the Capitol and vandalize government buildings?

KAHN: The similarities are quite striking. You have Bolsonaro, who's a one-term president from the far right, who lost the election and refused to concede. And he spent months insisting he lost due to fraud, which he's never provided proof of. His supporters have been camping out in front of army barracks ever since the election on October 3, and they've been urging the military. They want them to step in and overturn the results.

Yesterday, they amassed in great numbers here in Brasilia. Some 40 buses had arrived in the capital. And they march, escorted by police, to the government esplanade, where you said - where they have the Congress, the Supreme Court and the president's office. Once there, they just trashed those offices. Images of the mayhem are devastating. They smashed windows. They broke furniture. They set fires. They were violent against the few police that did try to hold the line. One video was particularly disturbing. It was showing the crowd turn on this lone police officer on a horse. They just pulled him off the horse and were beating him with sticks.

FADEL: Wow.

KAHN: And hundreds have been arrested.

FADEL: Wow. It does sound so similar. When President Lula da Silva spoke about this, did he say how he plans to respond?

KAHN: He was clearly upset and angry. He called the rioters vandals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: He says they were fascists, fanatics, and what they did has never been done before in the history of this country. He lashed out at the federal police in Brasilia, too, that appeared to do very little to stop the rioters, especially as they marched from this encampment at the army barracks, and they walked about four miles to the government buildings. And he also squarely placed the blame for incitement of the violence on former President Bolsonaro. He said there will be a quick and thorough investigation into who financed the rioters and also the police in action.

FADEL: What about Bolsonaro? I mean, these are his supporters. Where is he? What is he saying?

KAHN: Last night, Bolsonaro tweeted he condemned the - what he called illegal acts. And he said that he was not responsible for the rioters' actions, though. He's not in Brazil. He's actually in Florida...

FADEL: OK.

KAHN: ...In Orlando. He left Brazil just days before Lula's inauguration. He broke a longstanding Brazilian tradition to pass the presidential sash to his successor. He really had remained practically silent after losing the election last October, and many of his followers have just been frustrated by the silence and then his leaving the country. The attack was exactly one week since Lula was inaugurated. It was at this exact same site. So that may be why they chose this day, even though the government isn't working on a Sunday.

FADEL: That's NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn in Brasilia. Thank you so much.

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

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.