Thousands of supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro broke through security barriers in the capital of Brasilia on Sunday and invaded congress, the supreme court and the presidential palace to protest his election loss.  

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wasn’t in the palace. Police used pepper spray in an unsuccessful attempt to control the protesters earlier Sunday. Security forces were able to clear the supreme court of rioters who had stormed into the building. 

The protesters were still inside the congressional building as of Sunday afternoon.

Television images showed thousands of protesters, draped in Brazilian flags and wearing the yellow national jersey, flooding into congress and other branches of government in an event similar to the Jan. 6, 2021 invasion of the US Capitol. Security forces appeared to have lost control of the main square in Brasilia that is the center of government. Some rioters broke windows and carried out other acts of vandalism, while others took videos and selfies. 

“I vehemently repudiate these anti-democratic acts, which must urgently undergo the rigor of the law,” Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco said on Twitter.

The unrest on Sunday follows months of protests in front of military installations by Bolsonaro supporters who were demanding an intervention to prevent Lula from returning to power. In late December there was a bomb scare near Brasilia’s airport. More than a hundred buses of Bolsonaro supporters arrived in Brasilia ahead of the Sunday protests. 

Justice Minister Flavio Dino said security forces are working to control the situation and that the federal district will send reinforcements. Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of the ruling Workers’ Party, criticized the authorities in the capital for failing to prevent the civil unrest. 

Bolsonaro himself never fully accepted his defeat in October elections and went on vacation in Orlando, Florida, instead of attending Lula’s inauguration. 

Christian Lynch, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said Sunday’s events will do irreversible damage to Bolsonaro’s movement, and that the response from all branches of government will be swift and unforgiving.

“It will crush the legitimacy of the far right,” he said. “The system will bring an end to any tolerance for these people.”

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