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South America

Brazil to boost security for Lula inauguration after bomb threat

Incoming minister says Brazil cannot allow ‘political terrorism’ after Bolsonaro supporter accused of bomb plot.

Brazil’s next justice minister has said security will need to be beefed up for the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after a man was arrested over the weekend for an alleged bomb plot that aimed to sow “chaos” in the country.

Incoming Justice Minister Flavio Dino said in a television interview on Monday that the next government would not “allow political terrorism in Brazil”.

“We’re not talking about a lone wolf,” Dino said of the suspect, George Washington de Oliveira Sousa, who was arrested on Saturday. Police said he planned to set off an explosive device near the airport in the capital, Brasilia.

“There are powerful people behind this, and the police will investigate,” Dino said.

The alleged plot was uncovered just days before the incoming left-wing president, known as Lula, is scheduled to take office on January 1 in the South American nation.

Dino also pledged on Sunday that Lula’s inauguration would go ahead “in peace”, writing on Twitter: “Democracy has won and will win.”

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Lula — who previously served two terms as president from 2003 to 2010 — narrowly defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in an October runoff that capped what some observers call one of the most divisive political contests in Brazilian history.

For months, Bolsonaro had falsely claimed the country’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud, spurring concerns that the former army captain planned to contest the results if he were to lose to Lula.

Many Bolsonaro supporters continue to reject his electoral defeat, with some blocking major roads in the days after Lula was declared the winner.

According to statements by the civil police and published in local media, the suspect Sousa confessed to authorities that the bomb was part of a plan to “start chaos” and “prevent the establishment of communism in Brazil”.

He said the idea was hatched with other Bolsonaro supporters who have been protesting outside the army’s headquarters in Brasilia to urge the military to stop Lula from taking office.

The goal, Sousa told police, was to place at least two explosives in strategic locations, with the aim of initiating a “declaration of a state of siege in the country” and from there “provoking an intervention by the armed forces”, Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported.

Police said Sousa, who works at a service station in the northern state of Para, had stored an arsenal of weapons in his apartment. According to the Folha de Sao Paulo, Sousa had a cache worth about $31,000 (162,000 Brazilian reais).

He also reportedly said that he was inspired to acquire the weapons “by President Bolsonaro’s words”. The outgoing leader has been outspoken in his support of gun ownership.

Sousa’s initial lawyer, Wallison dos Reis Pereira, said he had confessed and was cooperating with police. But his current lawyer, Jorge Chediak, has called Sousa’s confession to police full of “contradictions”. Chediak has yet to speak with Sousa, who is currently in jail.

Lula has promised to govern for all Brazilians, but he faces the tough challenge of uniting a deeply divided nation after four years marked by increased poverty and environmental destruction, as well as one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death tolls.

His incoming government marks “a new page for Brazil, with more democracy and rights”, Lula said on Twitter on Monday morning.

“Governing Brazil means deals with agribusiness, evangelicals, former Bolsonaro allies,” Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, recently told The Associated Press news agency.

“It can be frustrating for half-hearted Lula voters, but that’s what they have before them,” he said.


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