Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro asked participants in what he said were "legitimate" protests to "unblock the roads" and demonstrate elsewhere, as supporters pushed this week for military intervention to keep him in power.
The outgoing leader’s supporters rallied in front of military installations in Brazil's major cities and blocked highways in more than half the country's states. The demonstrators, unwilling to accept the election defeat to leftist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, clogged autoroutes and caused nationwide disruptions for more than three days. On Tuesday, more than 270 roadblocks were reported.
"I want to make an appeal to them: Unblock the roads," Bolsonaro said late the following day. The blockages do "not seem to me to be part of legitimate demonstrations,” said the far-right leader, who added that “other demonstrations that are taking place throughout Brazil in squares” were “welcome” and “part of the democratic game.”
After days of silence, Bolsonaro on Tuesday gave a short speech in which he neither accepted defeat nor congratulated Lula, although his chief-of-staff took the podium afterward to say the president had authorised the transition to a new government.
Many supporters, however, refused to back down. "Federal intervention now!" chanted some of the thousands who gathered in front of the Southeastern Military Command in the country's biggest city, São Paulo.
"We want a federal intervention because we demand our freedom. We do not admit that a thief governs us," Angela Cosac, 70, told AFP, alluding to the corruption allegations against Lula that saw him jailed and later released.
Some mobilisations were marred by threats and violence. At a roadblock near the town of Mirassol in São Paulo state, a motorist drove into a crowd of demonstrators, injuring at least seven people, CNN reported. In the southern state of Santa Catarina, protesters were filmed on Wednesday raising Nazi salutes.
Thousands meanwhile gathered in the capital, Brasilia, chanting "civil resistance," while in rainy downtown Rio de Janeiro, demonstrators were filmed by Brazilian media shouting: "Lula, thief, your place is in prison."
In São Paulo, military police used tear gas to disperse a blockade on the main highway connecting the state with the central-west region of the country, after the Supreme Federal Court ordered the use of "all necessary measures" to open the roads.
The blockades caused disruptions nationwide. The main airport in Sao Paulo cancelled 48 flights due to the protests, according to its press office.
Bolsonaro on Tuesday said protesters should not "use the methods of the left” that “prevent freedom of movement," while adding that the roadblocks were "the fruit of indignation and a feeling of injustice at how the electoral process took place."
"Peaceful protests will always be welcome," he said.
That was interpreted by some supporters as a call to maintain the demonstrations.