By Agence France-Presse
Brazilian soldiers deployed Wednesday to defend government buildings in the capital Brasilia after protesters demanding the exit of President Michel Temer smashed their way into ministries and fought with riot police.
“At this moment, federal troops are already here in (the foreign ministry),” Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said in a brief televised statement. “And next there are troops arriving to secure all the ministerial buildings.”
Jungmann said the army was ordered in by Temer, who is fighting for his political life after being placed under a corruption investigation.
The deployment of soldiers sent a psychological shockwave through a capital already shaking from the day’s violence and frantic debate over the corruption scandal threatening to bring down the president.
In the lower house of Congress, the session was temporarily suspended after leftist deputies took over the speaker’s podium, brandishing signs saying “Temer out.”
Troops are regularly used in Brazil to back up police when law and order breaks down or help at major events like last year’s Rio Olympics.
However, the issue is deeply sensitive in a country that lived under military rule from 1964-1985 and the decision to bring soldiers into the heart of the government complex spooked even Temer’s allies.
“The question of a military presence is always something that frightens us,” said Tasso Jereissati, president of the PSDB social democrats.
Violence erupted soon after the crowd, estimated by police at 35,000, marched toward the presidential palace, which is flanked by Congress and the government buildings.
Although most of the protesters were peaceful, small groups wearing masks threw stones at officers ringing the area and smashed their way into the agriculture ministry and reportedly also the culture and planning ministries. Riot police crouching behind black shields lobbed tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd, triggering running battles.
When protesters set a fire in the agriculture ministry, employees were forced to flee.
“There was an invasion of the ministry’s private entrance. They lit a fire in a room, broke photos in a gallery of ex-ministers and confronted police,” a spokesman for the ministry told AFP. “The building was evacuated.”
Jungmann said the protest had been “peaceful but descended into violence, vandalism, disrespect, attacks on state property, and threats against people.”
Government employees “were terrorized,” he said.