Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro called on participants in what he said were “legitimate” protests to “lift the blockade of the roads” and demonstrate elsewhere on Wednesday as they push for military intervention to keep him in power.
The far-right leaders’ supporters gather in front of military installations in Brazil’s major cities and have blocked highways in more than half of the country’s states.
The protesters, unwilling to accept the results of Bolsonaro’s election defeat to leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday, have now blocked auto routes and caused nationwide disruption for three consecutive days.
“I want to appeal to them: Remove the blockage of the roads,” Bolsonaro said late Wednesday. The blockades “do not seem to me to be part of legitimate demonstrations”.
“Other demonstrations taking place across Brazil in squares… are part of the democratic game. They are welcome,” he added.
After days of silence, Bolsonaro gave a brief speech on Tuesday in which he neither accepted defeat nor congratulated Lula on the weekend’s victory, although his chief of staff took to the podium afterwards to say the president had authorized the transition to a new government.
“Federal intervention now!” chanted some of the thousands who gathered in front of the Southeast Military Command in the country’s largest city, Sao Paulo.
“We want a federal intervention because we demand our freedom. We do not admit that a thief rules us,” Angela Cosac, 70, told AFP, referring to the fact that Lula served time in prison for corruption.
However, the mobilization day was characterized by violence. At a roadblock near the city of Mirassol in the state of Sao Paulo, a driver drove into a crowd of protesters, injuring at least seven people, according to CNN.
Some supporters of Bolsonaro, himself a retired army captain, made threatening gestures to reporters in Sao Paulo, where crowds of protesters swelled later in the day.
In the southern state of Santa Catarina, protesters were filmed on Wednesday raising Nazi salutes.
Meanwhile, thousands rallied in the capital Brasilia and chanted “civil resistance”, while protesters in rainy central Rio de Janeiro were filmed by Brazilian media shouting: “Lula, thief, your place is in prison”.
– Disturbances across the country –
The number of roadblocks across the country decreased from 271 on Tuesday to 146 on Wednesday, according to the police.
In Sao Paulo, military police used tear gas to disperse a blockade of the main road linking the state with the central-western region of the country, after the federal high court ordered the use of “all necessary measures” to open the roads.
Rodrigo da Mata, a 41-year-old salesman, told AFP he wanted a military intervention “so that our country will not become communist”.
“We do not accept the election result because we know it was fraudulent. Like everything PT does,” he added, referring to Lula’s Workers’ Party.
Trucks honked their horns, while protesters wearing yellow football kits waved flags in front of passing vehicles, in scenes broadcast on local television.
The blockades have caused disruption across the country. Sao Paulo’s main airport canceled 48 flights because of the protests, according to the press office.
Bolsonaro’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourao, told the newspaper O Globo that “there is no point in crying, we have lost the battle”.
The National Confederation of Industry warned on Tuesday of an imminent risk of fuel shortages if blocked roads were not quickly cleared.
Infrastructure Minister Marcelo Sampaio called late Tuesday for protesters to block highways to allow medicine, supplies and fuel to circulate.
Many Brazilian supermarkets have reportedly already experienced a shortage of supplies.
– “The dream is still alive” –
Demonstrations calling for military intervention in front of military buildings took place on Wednesday in 11 of the country’s 27 states, according to the UOL news website.
Bolsonaro said on Tuesday that protesters should not “use the methods of the left… which hinder freedom of movement”, but added that the roadblocks were “the fruit of indignation and a sense of injustice over how the electoral process took place”.
“Peaceful protests will always be welcome,” he said.
It was interpreted by some supporters as a call to maintain the demonstrations.
“The dream is still alive,” said a message from a supporter Tuesday on Telegram. “Fill the streets tomorrow.”