Brazil's president on Thursday cancelled an order to deploy the military to the streets of the capital after criticism that the move was excessive and merely an effort to hold onto power amid increasing calls for his resignation.
In a decree published in the Official Diary, President Michel Temer revoked the order issued a day earlier, "considering the halt to acts of destruction and violence and the subsequent reestablishment of law and order." On Thursday afternoon, however, soldiers were still stationed in Brasilia.
The troops were deployed late Wednesday following a day of clashes between police and protesters demanding Temer's ouster amid allegations against him of corruption. Fires broke out in two ministries and several were evacuated. Protesters also set fires in the streets and vandalized government buildings. Images in national media, meanwhile, appeared to show police officers firing weapons, and the Secretariat of Public Security said it was investigating. In all 49, people were injured, including one by a bullet.
Temer's popularity has been in a freefall since he took office a little more than a year ago after his predecessor was impeached and removed. Some Brazilians consider him illegitimate because of the way he came to power, and his efforts to pass a series of economic reforms to cap the budget, loosen labor laws and reduce pension benefits have only made him even more unpopular. In addition, several of his advisers have been linked to Brazil's massive corruption investigation, known as Operation Car Wash.
Now, as part of the Car Wash probe, Temer is facing allegations that he endorsed the paying of hush money to a former lawmaker who has been jailed for corruption. Brazil's highest court is investigating him for alleged obstruction of justice and involvement in passive corruption after a recording seemed to capture his approval of the bribe. Temer denies wrongdoing.
Many Brazilians want him out one way or another: They are calling for him to resign or be impeached. The calls for resignation have heated up since the release of the recording and came to a head in Wednesday's protest, when 45,000 demonstrators took to the streets.
In Congress, meanwhile, opposition lawmakers have submitted several requests for his impeachment. Later Thursday, the respected Brazilian bar association plans to submit another such request — a move that carries symbolic weight since the association is not partisan.
The use of troops in the nation's capital is particularly fraught in Brazil, where many still remember the repression of the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Images of soldiers patrolling the streets increased the impression that Temer is struggling to maintain control and further ratcheted up pressure on him.
Temer defended the decision as necessary to restore order and within his rights.
"Order was restored, the respect of life and order was restored," Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said in a news conference. He also countered accusations that the move was highly unusual, noting that the military had been called to patrol the streets of cities 29 times since 2010.