Brazil police question hundreds of detainees after anti-government attack

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calls storming of key government buildings 'an attempt to overthrow democracy'

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Brazilian police on Tuesday were questioning about 1,000 protesters held in an overcrowded gymnasium in the capital after anti-government mobs attacked public buildings at the weekend, as the country's new government led by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva worked to overcome the crisis.

Critics condemned the cramped and squalid conditions at the gymnasium, claiming the detainees — some of them elderly — did not have sufficient access to food or medical assistance.

Most of the supporters of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro were detained as troops dismantled a camp on Monday in the capital Brasilia. The camp had acted as a base for demonstrators who set off on Sunday to storm Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace.

Protesters at the camp outside army headquarters had called for a military coup to overturn the October election, in which the leftist Mr da Silva narrowly defeated Mr Bolsonaro, who made baseless claims of a rigged election.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who is running investigations into the “anti-democratic” protests, vowed in a speech on Tuesday to combat the “terrorists” calling for a coup.

“Democracy will prevail and Brazilian institutions will not bend,” said Mr Moraes at the swearing-in of a new head of the federal police.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo on Monday night to demand accountability for the attacks.

“These people need to be punished, the people who ordered it need to be punished, those who gave money for it need to be punished,” Bety Amin, a 61-year-old therapist, said on Sao Paulo’s main boulevard.

The word “DEMOCRACY” was stretched across the back of her shirt.

“They don’t represent Brazil. We represent Brazil,” she told The Associated Press.

The pro-democracy protesters’ push for accountability evokes memories of an amnesty law that for decades has protected military members accused of abuse and murder during the country’s 1964-85 dictatorship.

The detainees, who have had to sleep on the ground at the gymnasium, some wrapped in Brazilian flags, complained to a Reuters journalist that they were being held indefinitely and poorly fed.

They sang and took selfies with their phones, videos posted on social media showed.

Opposition Senator Marcos do Val, who has denounced the Brasilia riots as a blunder for the political right, told journalists outside the gym that many of those detained “are paying for being in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

'Nothing was done'

Mr da Silva's government is working to overcome fallout from the rampage, which many have compared to the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump.

Like Mr Trump, Mr Bolsonaro did not concede defeat after failing in his re-election bid.

Investigations may also sprawl far beyond Brasilia. Pro-Bolsonaro militants discussed on social media their plans to disrupt motorways and oil refineries to cause economic chaos in synch with their storming of the capital.

The violence stunned Mr da Silva's government and could delay economic policy announcements that were planned for this week by an administration eager to show results.

On Monday night, Mr da Silva, who took office on January 1, met the head of the Supreme Court, congressional leaders and state governors in a show of national unity to condemn the riots. They visited the ransacked Supreme Court building, which was the site most damaged by the pro-Bolsonaro rioters.

The President accused the rioters of trying to overthrow democracy and questioned why the army had not discouraged calls for a military coup.

“People were openly calling for a coup outside the barracks, and nothing was done. No general lifted a finger to tell them they could not do that,” Mr da Silva said. He accused some security forces of being complicit with rioters.

Meanwhile, Mr Bolsonaro, who flew to the US state of Florida days before his term ended, remained in hospital in Orlando after complaining of intestinal pain related to a stabbing attack that occurred during his 2018 election campaign.

His doctor said he has an intestinal blockage that was not serious and would probably not need surgery.

In an interview with CNN Brasil, Mr Bolsonaro said he had planned to stay in the US until the end of January, but now plans to return home sooner to see his doctors.

“I intend to bring forward my return because in Brazil the doctors already know about my problem of intestinal obstruction due to the stab wound,” he said.

Mr Bolsonaro faces several investigations before the Supreme Court in Brazil and his future in the US — where he travelled with a visa issued to heads of state, diplomats and other government officials — is in question.

Public prosecutors asked on Tuesday for a federal audit court to freeze the ex-president's assets in light of Sunday's vandalism, according to a report on the website of CNN Brasil — a move outside the traditional scope of that court.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: January 10, 2023, 8:05 PM