Brazilian President Michel Temer on Thursday deployed the army as protesters battle police, demanding his resignation and setting fire to a ministry building.
Police unleashed volleys of tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to halt tens of thousands of protesters as they marched towards Congress to call for Temer’s ouster and an end to his austerity program.
Masked protesters fired powerful fireworks at police, set ablaze furniture in the Agriculture Ministry, and sprayed anti-Temer graffiti on government buildings.
It was the most violent protest in Brasilia since anti-government demonstrations in 2013 and fueled a political crisis sparked by allegations Temer condoned paying off a potential witness in a massive corruption probe.
The scandal has raised chances Brazil could see a second president fall in less than a year.
Police cordons held back protesters from advancing on the modernistic Congress building where the main ally in Temer’s coalition, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, met to discuss whether to continue backing him and prepare for a post-Temer transition.
Police said one protestor was shot and wounded.
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.
The city government said 49 people were hurt.
Temer approved a decree allowing army troops to assist police in restoring order in Brasilia, giving soldiers policing powers and the right to make arrests.
His office said Temer turned to the military after police were overwhelmed.
The move brought immediate criticism in a nation where memories of a brutal 1964-85 military dictatorship remain fresh.
Temer, a former vice president whose government’s approval rating is in the single digits, took office a year ago after former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached for breaking budgetary laws.
Rousseff and her supporters labeled that a “coup” orchestrated by Temer and his allies in an effort to halt a sweeping, three-year corruption probe that has placed scores of sitting politicians under investigation.
Temer defiantly refused to resign on Friday after the Supreme Court opened an investigation into the hush-money allegations made in plea-bargain testimony by executives at meatpacking giant “JBS SA”.
The accusations pummeled Brazilian financial markets on doubts Congress would pass government austerity measures meant to pull Brazil out of its worst-ever recession
Temer could be removed from office by Brazil’s top electoral court which meets on June 6 to decide whether to annul the 2014 election victory by the Rousseff-Temer ticket for using illegal money to fund their campaign.
Sonia Fleury, a political analyst at think tank FGV, said more violent protests can be expected in a country where discontent with a discredited political establishment is rife.
“We are in a very deep crisis. Temer is no longer governing. Anything he does, like call out soldiers, can only make things worse,” she said.
Unions were galvanised by opposition to a bill that would cut their power in the workplace by allowing temporary non-unionized contracts and ending obligatory payment of union dues.
“Temer can’t stay and these reforms that trample on our rights cannot advance. We want elections now,” said Dorivaldo Fernandes, 56, member of a health workers union in the neighboring state of Goias.
Leftist senators, who on Tuesday succeeded in obstructing discussion of the labor reform bill, read out a constitutional amendment in committee that would allow early general elections instead of waiting until October 2018.
But chances of changing the constitution in the midst of a political crisis were minimal.