Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro asked participants in what he said were “legitimate" protests to “unblock the roads" and demonstrate elsewhere Wednesday as they push for military intervention to keep him in power.
The far-right leaders’ supporters are rallying in front of military installations in Brazil’s major cities and have blocked highways in more than half the country’s states.
The demonstrators, unwilling to accept the results of Bolsonaro’s Sunday election defeat to leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have now clogged autoroutes and caused nationwide disruptions for three straight days.
“I want to make an appeal to them: Unblock the roads," Bolsonaro said late Wednesday. The blockages do “not seem to me to be part of legitimate demonstrations."
“Other demonstrations that are taking place throughout Brazil in squares… are part of the democratic game. They are welcome," he added.
After days of silence, Bolsonaro on Tuesday gave a short speech in which he neither accepted defeat nor congratulated Lula on his weekend win, although his chief of staff took the podium afterward 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 Southeastern Military Command in the country’s biggest city, Sao Paulo.
“We want a federal intervention because we demand our freedom. We do not admit that a thief governs us," Angela Cosac, 70, told AFP, alluding to the fact that Lula served time in prison for corruption.
The day of mobilization was marred by violence, however. At a roadblock near the town of Mirassol in Sao Paulo state, a motorist drove into a crowd of demonstrators, injuring at least seven people, according to CNN.
Some supporters of Bolsonaro, himself a retired army captain, made threatening gestures to journalists in Sao Paulo, where crowds of demonstrators swelled later in the day.
In the southern state of Santa Catarina, protesters were filmed on Wednesday raising Nazi salutes.
Thousands meanwhile gathered in the capital, Brasilia, chanting “civil resistance," while in rainy downtown Rio de Janeiro, demonstrators were filmed by Brazilian media shouting: “Lula, thief, your place is in prison."
The number of road blockades throughout the country decreased from 271 on Tuesday to 146 on Wednesday, according to police.
In Sao Paulo, military police used tear gas to disperse a blockade on the main highway connecting the state with the central-west region of the country, after the Supreme Federal Court ordered the use of “all necessary measures" to open the roads.
Rodrigo da Mata, a 41-year-old salesman, told AFP that he wanted a military intervention “so that our country does not become communist."
“We do not accept the election result because we know it was fraudulent. Like everything that the PT does," he added, in reference to Lula’s Workers’ Party.
Trucks sounded their horns, while demonstrators wearing yellow football jerseys waved flags in front of passing vehicles, in scenes broadcast on local television.
The blockades have caused disruptions nationwide. The main airport in Sao Paulo cancelled 48 flights due to the protests, according to its press office.
Bolsonaro’s vice president, Hamilton Mourao, told the O Globo daily that “it’s no use crying, we’ve lost the game."
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 had asked late Tuesday for protesters to unblock the highways to allow medicine, supplies and fuel to circulate.
Many Brazilian supermarkets reportedly were already experiencing some supply shortages.
‘Dream is still alive’
Demonstrations calling for military intervention in front of military buildings took place Wednesday in 11 of the country’s 27 states, according to news site UOL.
Bolsonaro on Tuesday said protesters should not “use the methods of the left… that prevent freedom of movement," but added that the roadblocks were “the fruit of indignation and a feeling of injustice at how the electoral process took place."
“Peaceful protests will always be welcome," he said.
That was interpreted by some supporters as a call to maintain the demonstrations.
“The dream is still alive," said a message by one supporter Tuesday on Telegram. “Fill the streets tomorrow."
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