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Brazil opens trials over pro-Bolsonaro riots, one convicted

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Brazil’s Supreme Court began the first trials on Wednesday over the riots that took place on January 8 by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, who stormed the top government offices in Brasilia to demand his return to power. The court plans to hear a total of 232 cases involving the most serious alleged crimes committed during the riots, which have been compared to the US Capitol invasion on January 6, 2021.

In the first verdict, Justice Alexandre de Moraes convicted Aecio Pereira, 51, of armed criminal conspiracy, violent uprising against the rule of law and an attempted coup. He recommended a sentence of 17 years in prison for Pereira, who was seen wearing a T-shirt calling for a military intervention and celebrating the invasion of the Senate chamber in a video he recorded on his cell phone. Moraes said the rioters aimed to illegally seize power and overthrow the democratically elected government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

 Lula, a veteran leftist who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010, narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in the October 2022 presidential election. Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who idolized former US President Donald Trump, refused to accept his loss and spread baseless claims of electoral fraud. He also encouraged his supporters to protest against Lula’s inauguration, which took place a week before the riots.

 On January 8, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters breached security barriers and ransacked the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court. They smashed windows, threw furniture into fountains, vandalized artworks and turned the Senate’s central dais into a slide. The incident shocked the nation and drew international condemnation.

 Three other defendants also stood trial on Wednesday as part of the same case, but their verdicts have not been announced yet. They are accused of similar charges as Pereira and face up to 30 years in prison each. They have denied any wrongdoing and claimed they participated in a peaceful demonstration of unarmed people. Their lawyers have argued that the trial is politically motivated.

 The Supreme Court’s 11 justices will deliver their decisions one by one in each case, with a recommended sentence if needed. The trials are expected to last for several weeks. The court has also ordered Bolsonaro to testify as a witness in some of the cases, but he has not responded yet.

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