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Lula inauguration: Brazil security on high alert, Bolsonaro in Florida

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BRASILIA — Hundreds of thousands are expected to descend on Brazil’s capital on Sunday to celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the stalwart of the Latin American left returning to the office he held more than a decade ago.

But the carnivallike party on New Year’s Day comes against a tense backdrop, as supporters of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro remain camped outside army barracks here and across the country, calling for a military overthrow of the incoming government to keep their candidate in office.

The threat of potential violence not far from the Planalto Palace, where Lula will be sworn in for a third term as president of Latin America’s largest country, is a stark reminder of the division in the country he is now tasked with governing.

Lula, 77, won the presidency in October in the closest presidential election in Brazilian history, three years after being freed from prison on corruption charges that were later dropped. After a bitterly fought race marred by misinformation and disinformation, he will now be expected to unite the nation while keeping campaign promises to rebuild the economy, tackle police brutality and protect the Amazon. Brazil’s fiscal holes will limit his ability to address poverty and hunger.

Lula won Brazil’s closest-ever election. That was the easy part.

As he takes office on Sunday, one key person is expected to be missing. Bolsonaro flew to Florida on Friday with apparent plans to skip the traditional handover of the presidential sash to his successor, a symbolic reaffirmation of Brazil’s young democracy.

In a farewell speech live-streamed on Friday, a teary Bolsonaro continued to claim his election loss was unfair, but acknowledged that a new administration would take office on Sunday. He condemned violent demonstrations aimed at overturning his loss, calling on his supporters to “show we are different from the other side, that we respect the norms and the Constitution.”

But attacks and threats by Bolsonaro’s supporters in Brasília and across the country have led authorities to put security forces on high alert ahead of the inauguration. A group of radical bolsonaristas last month burned buses in the capital and attempted to storm the federal police headquarters after the arrest of a Bolsonaro supporter. Authorities in eight states raided weapons caches and arrested suspects accused of “anti-democratic acts.”

Last week, police said they had defused a bomb planted near the international airport in Brasília. They arrested a man who they said told investigators he sought to create chaos to draw military intervention before the inauguration. Bolsonaro on Friday rejected Brazilian media reports connecting the bomb suspect to him.

On Thursday, public safety officials said demonstrations against Lula would not be allowed in the central area of the capital during the inauguration ceremony. Any such protests would be directed to other regions of the city.

All of Brasília’s police officers are scheduled to work Sunday with reinforcements from the federal police and other forces. Access to the event area is to be restricted and all attendees are to be inspected. Objects including cans and glass bottles, fireworks and weapons are prohibited.

Bolsonaristas remained camped out outside army headquarters in the capital. Police attempted the clear the camp on Thursday, but withdrew after protesters reacted violently, Brazilian media reported. Buses filled with Bolsonaro supporters reportedly arrived at the camp on Friday, even after Bolsonaro’s speech.

The surge in visitors was expected to be a boon for local businesses, but some who might benefit are wary.

Paulo Pereira, a 34-year-old Uber driver, voted for Lula but now fears the potential for violence around the inauguration.

“Did you see that they set buses and cars on fire here a few weeks ago?” he asked. “I don’t want to run the risk of losing my car. It is my livelihood.”

“The city,” he said, “is apprehensive.”

Teary Bolsonaro calls loss unfair, condemns violence, flies to Florida

Elsewhere in Brasília, the mood was starkly different. Normally sleepy at this time of year, far removed from New Year’s Eve festivities in other parts of the country, the city was being taken over by Lula parties and sambas.

As one flight from Sao Paolo landed in the capital, passengers wearing the red caps and T-shirts of Lula’s Worker’s Party cheered and chanted: “Olê, olê, olê, olê, Lula, Lula!” At the airport exit, merchants sold Lula pins and flags.

More than 300,000 people are expected to view the inauguration, to be followed by a music festival dubbed “Lulapalooza.”

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. local time. Lula and vice president-elect Geraldo Alckmin and their wives are to parade through the city in an open convertible, a 1952 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. After a ceremony at the Chamber of Deputies, Lula will walk up a ramp to the entrance of the Planalto Palace.

More than 60 foreign representatives and 17 heads of state have confirmed their presence. They are to include presidents from across Latin America, the president of Germany and the king of Spain.

Luís Cláudio Lula da Silva was 17 years old when his father first came to the presidency. Now 37, he told The Washington Post it’s difficult to compare Sunday’s inauguration to the one he witnessed 20 years ago.

“Brazil was more united” then, he said. “Today there is a sense of relief to know that we will have four years of peace in Brazil. … Of progress.”


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