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Lula supporters, opponents clash in Brazilian capital

Demonstrators attend a protest over the appointment of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as chief of staff, near the presidential palace in Brasilia on March 17, 2016. ©Reuters

Clashes have broken out in the Brazilian capital between supporters and opponents of the appointment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the country’s cabinet.

The rival protesters engaged in the confrontation outside the presidential palace in Brasilia on Thursday ahead of Lula’s swearing-in as chief of staff to his embattled successor, Dilma Rousseff.

Police said they used pepper spray to prevent violence and disperse about 300 opposition demonstrators, who were trying to enter the square occupied by over 300 pro-government protesters.

Opponents accused Lula, the founder and face of the governing Workers’ Party, of trying to dodge corruption charges against him. They shouted slogans such as “Shame!”

On the contrary, the ex-president’s supporters said the opponents are seeking a “coup” in the South American country.

Former Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, (L) gestures next to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff after Lula’s sworn in as chief of staff in Brasilia on March 17, 2016. ©AFP

“In my opinion, she (Rousseff) cheated Brazil because we were going through this financial situation because of her. Everyone knew that. We have an enormous debt. She is being slutty. I don’t think Lula earned this appointment and the investigation on him needs to continue,” said protester Daniel Rodrigues.

Meanwhile, there were reports that Brazils’ federal judge has issued an injunction to suspend Lula’s appointment as the chief of staff.

Elsewhere, hundreds of anti-government protesters calling for Rousseff’s impeachment and Lula’s arrest blocked central Sao Paulo, the country’s financial capital and main opposition stronghold.

Earlier this month, Lula was detained by police and questioned for three hours as part of a graft investigation, centered on the state-controlled oil company Petrobras.

He is charged with receiving illicit benefits from kickbacks at the firm in the form of payments and luxury real estate.

Critics say Lula’s new post as the chief of staff shields him from prosecution in the Petrobras corruption inquiry, which has implicated several business leaders and politicians close to the government. The scandal threatens to topple Rousseff.

The developments come at a time that Brazil's economy is mired in its worst recession in a generation.

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