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Tuesday 22 May 2018

Brazilian president revokes order to send in military over protests

Demonstrators torch the Ministry of Agriculture during an anti-government protest in Brasilia (AP)
Demonstrators torch the Ministry of Agriculture during an anti-government protest in Brasilia (AP)

Brazilian president Michel Temer has revoked an order to deploy the military in the capital following clashes between police and protesters demanding his resignation.

Two ministries were set on fire and 49 people were injured during violence in Brasilia, and Mr Temer ordered 1,500 troops to restore order.

On Thursday he revoked the order in a decree published in the Official Diary, which said violence had ceased and order had been restored.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brasilia to demand Mr Temer's resignation amid allegations he approved of paying hush money to a jailed former politician.

What began as small scuffles between police and protesters who tried to jump a cordon mushroomed into a series of confrontations in which officers fired tear gas and pepper spray to contain the crowd.

A fire broke out in the ministry of agriculture, and protesters broke windows and doors at other ministries.

Local media captured video images of military police firing pistols into the air.

The Secretariat of Public Security issued a statement saying it would investigate the weapons firing, saying that "this procedure is not used in protests".

Earlier, it said one person had been injured by a bullet but give no information on who fired the shot.

Some government agencies were evacuated because of the violence, the president's office said.

In a brief national address during the unrest, defence minister Raul Jungmann said troops were being sent to guard the presidential palace and other federal buildings.

The week-long deployment was authorised by a presidential decree that left open the possibility that soldiers could be used more widely in Brasilia.

Mr Temer's office issued a statement defending the order as necessary because the violence put the lives and safety of public servants at risk.

It said the president had determined that using the country's National Force, an elite police entity, would not have been sufficient.

"When order is re-established, the decree will be revoked," the statement said.

"The president of the republic underscores that he will not hesitate to exercise the authority given to his office whenever it is necessary."

Mr Temer is struggling to retain power after the release of a recording that appears to capture him approving hush money for a convicted former politician.

Brazil's top court is investigating him for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption. The president has denied wrongdoing and insists he will not resign.

His unusual decision to call in the military could heighten anger against the government if it is seen as the last gasp of a president trying to maintain power with the use of force.

"This decree was never used in this context to protect an administration that is politically isolated," said Newton de Oliveira, a professor and security specialist at Mackenzie University in Rio.

After the announcement that troops were taking up positions in the capital, some senior officials began distancing themselves from the decision.

"If this government cannot hold itself up, the armed forces will not hold up this government," said senator Renan Calheiros, who is the whip for Mr Temer's party in the upper house but has increasingly challenged the president.

Senator Romero Juca, a Temer ally, defended the president's decision.

"President Temer brought in the armed forces because a bunch of criminals were setting ministries on fire," he said.

With Brazil deeply divided and a political crisis deepening, sessions in both houses of Congress became chaotic as politicians shouted one another down.

While Congress debated, 35,000 people were marching toward the legislative building, shouting "Out with Temer!" and carrying signs calling for an immediate direct presidential election.

If Mr Temer should resign, Brazil's constitution says Congress would elect the next president, who would hold power for the rest of his term, which runs to the end of 2018.

However, many Brazilians, disgusted with the political class, want to vote themselves.

Press Association

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