Officials investigate after media images appear to show officers firing weapons at demonstration calling for resignation of president Michel Temer
Brazilian authorities are investigating reports that police officers opened fire with live ammunition during clashes with protesters demanding the resignation of the president, Michel Temer, over corruption allegations.
Troops were deployed in the country’s capital late on Wednesday following a day of protests in which fires broke out in two ministries and several were evacuated. Protesters also set fires in the streets and vandalized government buildings.
Images in national media appeared to show police officers firing weapons, and the secretariat of public security said it was investigating. In all, 49 people were injured, one by a bullet.
On Thursday, Temer canceled the troop deployment after criticism that the move was excessive and merely an effort to hold onto power amid increasing calls for his resignation.
In a decree published in the official diary, Temer revoked the order issued a day earlier, “considering the halt to acts of destruction and violence and the subsequent re-establishment of law and order”. On Thursday afternoon, however, soldiers were still stationed in Brasilia.
Temer’s popularity has been in a freefall since he took office a little more than a year ago after he helped engineer the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Roussef. Some Brazilians consider him illegitimate because of the way he came to power, and his efforts to pass a series of economic reforms to cap the budget, loosen labor laws and reduce pension benefits have made him even more unpopular.
In addition, several of his advisers have been linked to Brazil’s massive corruption investigation, known as Operation Car Wash.
As part of the Car Wash probe, Temer is facing allegations that he endorsed the paying of hush money to a former lawmaker who has been jailed for corruption. Brazil’s highest court is investigating him for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption after a recording seemed to capture his approval of the bribe. Temer denies wrongdoing.
Many Brazilians want him out one way or another: they are calling for him to resign or be impeached. The calls for resignation have heated up since the release of the recording and came to a head in Wednesday’s protest, when 45,000 demonstrators took to the streets.
In Congress, meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have submitted several requests for his impeachment. Later Thursday, the respected Brazilian bar association plans to submit another such request – a move that carries symbolic weight since the association is not partisan.
The use of troops in the nation’s capital is particularly fraught in Brazil, where many still remember the repression of the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Images of soldiers patrolling the streets increase the impression that Temer is struggling to maintain control and further ratcheted up pressure on him.
Temer defended the decision as necessary to restore order and within his rights.
“Order was restored, the respect of life and order was restored,” the defense minister, Raul Jungmann, said in a news conference. He also countered accusations that the move was highly unusual, noting that the military had been called to patrol the streets of cities 29 times since 2010.
This report includes material from the Associated Press