Brazilian president tells army to restore order

Thousands poured into Brazil's capital city demanding that the country's president step down because of numerous corruption scandals associated with his administration.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A demonstrator reacts near a burning barricade during a protest against President Michel Temer and the latest corruption scandal to hit the country, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 24, 2017.

Updated May 25, 2017

Brazil's president ordered federal troops to restore order in the country's capital Wednesday after some ministries were evacuated during clashes between police and protesters who are seeking the leader's ouster.

In a brief national address during the unrest, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said troops were being sent to guard federal buildings, including the presidential palace. The deployment was authorised by a presidential decree that left open the possibility that soldiers could be used more widely in Brasilia. 

"At this moment, federal troops are already here (in the foreign ministry)," Jungmann said in a brief televised statement.

"And next, there are troops arriving to secure all the ministerial buildings."

Brazil's agriculture ministry was evacuated after protesters demanding President Michel Temer's resignation got inside, setting a fire and vandalising the premises, an official said.

Riot police officers clash with demonstrators during a protest against President Michel Temer and the latest corruption scandal to hit the country, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 24, 2017.

"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. The building was evacuated," a spokesman for the ministry said.

Demonstrators set fire to the Agriculture Ministry building during a protest against President Michel Temer and the latest corruption scandal to hit the country, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 24, 2017.

At least 25,000 people massed in Brasilia to demand new elections and an end to austerity reforms in a protest fuelled by anger over a corruption scandal swirling around Temer.

Organised by leftist groups and trade unions, the protesters poured into the centre of Brazil's capital.

Brazil's left is looking for an opportunity for revenge just over a year since Temer took over from Workers' Party president Dilma Rousseff after she was impeached for illegally manipulating government accounts.

Temer, from the centre-right PMDB party, is reeling from a probe into his alleged corruption. The future of his market-friendly reforms package -- especially cuts in the country's generous but unaffordable pension system -- is unclear.

A riot police officer clashes with demonstrators during a protest against President Michel Temer and the latest corruption scandal to hit the country, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 24, 2017.

End Putchist government

"It's the end of this putschist government. That's why the people have taken to the streets," said Francisca Gomes, 59, who came from Sao Paulo for the protest and carried a funeral ribbon carrying the image of the president and the words: "RIP Temer."

Brasilia's security service said that 500 buses had converged on the capital, with some 25,000 protesters. The protesters were still gathering, with a march planned to start in the early afternoon.

Demonstrators rally during the protest "Occupy Brasilia" against the labor and social security reforms and the government of President Michel Temer in Brasilia, on May 24, 2017. Picture: AFP

"In a democracy, no government can resist when the people take to the streets," said Dorival Pereira, 60, who travelled 18 hours from Mato Grosso do Sul.

Like many demonstrators, she wore a T-shirt with the slogan "Elections now!"

Temer says the austerity reforms are already working and that more measures, especially pension reform, are needed. Latin America's biggest economy has been stuck in deep recession for two years and is just showing the first signs of returning to growth, although unemployment is at nearly 14 percent.

Protesters gathered in Brasilia to protests Temers austerity measures. (AFP)

Fighting for political life

However, Temer has been fighting for his political life since last week after allegations that he attempted to pay hush money to a jailed politician and was involved in bribery.

The scandal comes after a landslide of other corruption allegations against much of his government and Congress in a huge probe known as "Operation Car Wash."

For now, the president is trying to shore up his congressional alliance to resist calls for his impeachment. He has said he did nothing wrong and will not resign.

For many Brazilians, the revelations about Temer's alleged crimes dovetail with existing anger about the austerity reforms.

Previous demonstrations have sparked violent clashes with riot police. In Brasilia, protesters have even succeeded on several occasions to break past police cordons and smash the windows of government buildings.

Tensions already flared up on Tuesday in the Senate, where the economic affairs committee was reviewing a report on a reform of labour laws. Opposing senators yelled at each other, some chanting "Temer out, Temer out."

Eight years in prison

And in an unrelated case that underlined the far-reaching impact of Brazil's ongoing anti-graft operation, the Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced one of the country's most infamously corrupt and seemingly untouchable politicians to nearly eight years in prison.

Paulo Maluf, an 85-year-old ally of Temer, was convicted of money laundering and has been stripped of his mandate as a deputy in Congress. He has been on Interpol's list for alleged money laundering in New York.

Also on Tuesday, police said they had arrested a Temer adviser and two ex-governors over alleged fraud linked to a stadium used in the 2014 football World Cup in Brasilia.

The suspects allegedly overbilled by 900 million Brazilian reais (about $380 million at the time) on a 600-million reais project to build the Mane Garrincha stadium. 

Ironically, Wednesday's protesters began to gather for the day outside the same stadium.

TRTWorld and agencies