Brazil's Temer deploys army as protesters start fire in ministry
Protesters demanding the resignation of Brazilian President Michel Temer staged running battles with police and set fire to a ministry building in Brasilia on Wednesday, prompting the scandal-hit leader to order the army onto the streets, Reuters reported.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators had gathered peacefully at midday in the capital before marching down the grassy esplanade lined by federal ministries toward Congress, calling for Temer's ouster and an end to his austerity program.
Police unleashed repeated volleys of tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to halt protesters as they neared the Congressional building. Officers clubbed several demonstrators to block their path, according to Reuters witnesses.
Masked protesters responded by firing powerful fireworks at police, setting ablaze furniture in the lobby of the Agriculture Ministry and spraying anti-Temer graffiti on government buildings.
A local television station showed images of a police officer firing his handgun at demonstrators.
Large plumes of black smoke billowed high into the air in front of the modernistic Congress building after protestors set tires on fire.
It was the most violent protest in Brasilia since anti-government demonstrations convulsed Latin America's largest nation in 2013. By nightfall, protestors began to disperse.
One protestor was shot and wounded, police said. Local media reported at least one other demonstrator was seriously injured by a rubber bullet to the face, while another lost part of his hand while trying to throw an explosive device at officers.
Defense Minister Raul Jungmann announced on national TV that Temer had approved a decree allowing army troops to assist police in restoring order for the next week, giving soldiers policing powers and the right to make arrests.
The move brought immediate criticism in a nation where memories of a brutal 1964-85 military dictatorship remain fresh.
"What are they going to do? Intervene and wage war against the people that are out there on the esplanade?" Senator Gleisi Hoffmann of Rousseff's Workers Party said on the Senate floor.
In the nearby chamber of the Supreme Court, just a few hundred meters from the demonstration, Justice Marco Aurelio Mello said he was "a little worried" about Temer's decree that would allow the army to patrol the streets of the capital.
Senator Renan Calheiros, a strident critic of Temer from within his own Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), said the president had broken no constitutional rules by deploying the military.
"But it's bordering on foolishness to do so when the country is on fire. It's bordering on irresponsibility," said Calheiros, who is himself under investigation for graft.