Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched to Congress to protest economic reforms that President Michel Temer is pushing through and to demand he step down amid a corruption scandal.
Troops are being deployed to defend government buildings and there is a heavy police presence on the streets.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of President Michel Temer, fresh elections, and for economic reform plans to be withdrawn.
Defense Minister Raul Jungmann went on national television on Wednesday afternoon to insist that President Michel Temer was only trying to restore calm in the capital by calling in the troops to patrol some areas. One of the city’s iconic modernist buildings, the Agriculture Ministry, was set on fire, and other government buildings were vandalized during the mayhem. Regional officials in Brasília put the number of protesters on Wednesday around 35,000.
Planned demonstrations began peacefully around midday before clashes with police erupted. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at some demonstrators, and video footage showed other members of the crowd smashing windows or setting makeshift barriers afire.
Temer is struggling to retain power after the release of a recording that appears to capture him approving hush money for a convicted former lawmaker. Brazil’s top court is investigating him for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption. The president has denied wrongdoing and said he will not resign.
His unusual decision to call in the military could heighten anger against the government if it is seen as the last gasp of a president trying to maintain his hold on power.
“This decree was never used in this context to protect an administration that is politically isolated,” said Newton de Oliveira, a professor and security specialist at Mackenzie University in Rio de Janeiro. He said he thought the supreme court might be called on to evaluate whether the move was constitutional.