The political crisis in Brazil has spread to the capital, Brasilia, where a demonstration against the government of President Michel Temer on Wednesday ended in violent clashes with security forces, with 49 people wounded and extensive damage to ministry buildings. In response, the government called in troops, a move widely criticized, both by opposition parties and those that still support the embattled president, who faces possible impeachment and growing calls for him to step down over corruption and cover-up allegations.
Convened by labor unions and civic associations, tens of thousands of people gathered in the center of Brasilia early on Wednesday evening in what was intended to be a peaceful and festive protest against the reforms Temer has been trying to push through since taking office a year ago following the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff. This was one of the biggest protests in recent years in the country’s capital.
But things soon got out of hand as small groups of anarchists within the march broke away to ransack buildings and throw stones at security forces, who fired rubber bullets, tear gas, as well as live rounds to disperse the crowds. Daily O Globo published a video online of several police officers firing into the crowds.
Barricades were set alight by radicals linked to the so-called Black Block group, which has been behind violence in Rio de Janeiro and other cities in recent months. Seven ministry buildings were torched and had to be evacuated.
O Globo has reported the existence of an audio recording in which Temer is heard authorizing the payment of hush money to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house who is in jail for corruption. If true, it would mean that the president of Brazil was trying to obstruct the justice system’s investigation into widespread political graft.
The recording was secretly made on March 7 while Temer was talking to Joesley Batista, a top executive at the powerful business group JBS. Batista is cooperating with authorities as part of a plea bargain resulting from the Petrobras graft investigation, and he had a recording device concealed under his clothes.
Temer, who is fast losing the support of his political allies in Congress, has insisted that he will not stand down, and has activated emergency powers that include putting troops on the streets. The government had used similar measures to boost security during the Olympic Games, as well as during recent strikes by police officers in Rio and the neighboring state of Espírito Santo.
Meanwhile, in Congress, left-wing opposition deputies criticized the police and attempted to bring a halt to debate, clashing with Temer’s supporters.
With soldiers on the streets of Brasilia, violence has erupted in Rio, where state employees angry at austerity measures imposed in the wake of the state’s bankruptcy, faced off against police.
English version by Nick Lyne.