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Brazil's Lula seeks to project unity and bring the army in line during Independence Day events

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sought to project national unity Thursday during Independence Day events that included a military parade in the capital, just eight months after his predecessor's supporters launched an uprising hoping to prompt the army to oust Lula from power.

Under the slogan “Democracy, Sovereignty and Unity,” the commemorations marked a stark contrast with those organized under former President Jair Bolsonaro, who used such events to boost his reelection campaign and to slam Brazil’s Supreme Court, threatening to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

Lula's administration aimed to show a united front with the country’s military, political analysts say, as the nation recovers from Jan. 8 riots when Bolsonaro supporters ransacked the Supreme Court and Congress, and asked for a military intervention to keep their leader in power.

During a ceremony in the capital, Brasilia, Lula appeared next to Rosa Weber, head of the Supreme Court, and Senate leader Rodrigo Pacheco. Crowds in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were smaller than in recent years under the Bolsonaro administration, when tens of thousands of people showed up wearing yellow and green, the colors of the Brazilian flag.

On its homepage Thursday, newspaper O Globo said this year's events marked “a return to normalcy.”

In a recorded address aired Wednesday, Lula had called for Brazilians of different faiths, football teams and political stripes to celebrate together the 201th anniversary of Brazil’s Independence. “Tomorrow will be neither hate nor fear, but union,” the leftist president said.

“The previous government tried to appropriate these celebrations, the armed forces, for personal purposes," said Carolina Botelho, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo’s Advanced Studies Institute. “The message is not only to unify, but to rescue a state institution for society."

During his four years in office from 2019 to 2022, Bolsonaro, a former army captain, had stacked his administration with military officers and repeatedly sought their support, including t o cast doubt on the reliability of the nation’s electronic voting system.

Investigations targeting Bolsonaro and some of his closest allies already have ensnared some members of the military community. Lt. Col. Mauro Cid, Bolsonaro's former right-hand man, has been in detention since May and federal police searched the house of his father, Gen. Mauro César Lourena Cid.

According to one of the investigations, the younger Cid sold a Rolex and a Patek Philippe watch given as a gift to Bolsonaro by the government of Saudi Arabia in 2019. The money was allegedly transferred to the bank account of Cid’s father the same day. Cid is also under investigation for allegedly falsifying COVID-19 vaccine cards for his own family and Bolsonaro’s family during the pandemic in order to allow them to travel.

In an effort to diminish the role of military members in his government, Lula has tapped civilians to replace military officers, and moved oversight of the country’s intelligence agency to his chief of staff’s office.

On Sept. 7, 2021, Bolsonaro had slammed the Supreme Court, claiming he would no longer abide by rulings from Justice Alexandre de Moraes for making what the former leader characterized as political arrests. Attending demonstrations where his supporters displayed anti-democratic banners requesting military intervention, Bolsonaro had said: "Only God removes me.”

A year later, then a candidate for re-election, Bolsonaro transformed the nation’s bicentennial event into a multi-city campaign event.

“What we want to do now, with the participation of the army, the navy and air force, is to go back to making September 7th for everyone," Lula said Tuesday during a weekly address to the nation. “The 7th of September belongs to the military, the teacher, the doctor, the dentist, the lawyer, the hot dog vendor, the small and medium individual entrepreneur.”