Riot police cracked down on tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets in Brasilia Wednesday against President Michel Temer calling for fresh direct elections after the latest corruption scandal to rock the unelected government.
"Out with Temer! General election now!" chanted the massive crowds, estimated by organizers to number as many as 150,000, a large turnout in the federal district with a population of 3 million. Armed riot police forces met the demonstrators with tear gas.
Military police met demonstrators marching in front of the Ministries Esplanade and Square of Three Powers with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, wielding batons.
The ministries of finance and agriculture were soon set ablaze. All ministry buildings were evacuated. Brasilia had become a virtual battleground.
"Today is a defining day for the working class. Our rights are threatened by the coup and there is no respect for our dignity. We are being assaulted," Roberto Sousa e Silva, a public school teacher, told reporters from Brasil de Fato.
Under the banner of Occupy Brasilia, the demonstrations demanded the president resign and prompt new general elections, earlier than the scheduled presidential race in 2018. Conservative forces are gunning for indirect elections through Congress to replace the president in the event he steps down or is removed from office through an impeachment process or pending trial on illegal election financing.
Also on Wednesday, Brazil's military police were ordered to remove rural workers located on the Santa Lucia farm in the municipality of Pau D'Arco in the state of Para. The operation resulted in the deaths of 10 campesinos.
The Temer government has also sparked an outcry with a series of neoliberal austerity policies rolling back social and economic rights, including a reform that would freeze public spending for the next two decades. The regressive changes are expected to hit poor, marginalized Brazilians hardest with cuts to education, healthcare and other social programs.
"Indirect elections do not solve the problem of the crisis, the population, the reforms that the government is trying to carry out," argued youth Porto Alegre youth activist Caio Picareli to Brasil de Fato. "This Congress that would hold the election is the most reactionary in the history of Brazil because it is tied to the interests of the large economic groups."
T-shirts, banners and other signs at the march prominently featured the call for "Direct elections, now!"
The latest protests against the Temer administration, installed last year with the removal of former President Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment process widely condemned as a parliamentary coup, come on the heels of the most severe scandal to hit the government yet after a wiretap recording revealed Temer had endorsed bribes to keep quiet a powerful witness in corruption investigations.
Temer faces investigations for corruption and obstruction of justice after the damning wiretap.
The president has vowed that he will not step down over the scandal, saying in an interview with Brazil's Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, "I won't resign, oust me if you want."
Brasília arde. A direita de facebook diz que há “vândalos” nas ruas: https://t.co/ORt5Kw165K— Brasil de Fato (@Brasil_de_Fato) May 24, 2017
"Brasilia burns. Facebook right-wingers say that there are 'vandals' on the streets.
Just when you think the crisis can't get any worse, Temer ordered the military police to patrol the streets of Brasilia for an entire week.
On Wednesday, Brasil 247 reported that Raul Jungmann, Brazil's minister of defense, had confirmed the official decree during a press conference in Brasilia.
“By soliciting the speaker of the house of representative the president of the republic declared an operation that would guarantee law and order,” Jungmann announced. He added that Temer wouldn't permit any type of riot, chaos, or any form of troublemaking to derail the democratic and respectful development of state institutions.
"After severe police repression, demonstrators return to the bus station."
The decision to place the military on the streets of Brasilia comes on the heels of a Parana Institute Research poll which indicates 87 percent of Brazilians favor the immediate removal of Temer. The survey also showed that 88 percent favor Temer's impeachment, resignation, or removal by the Supreme Court.