Brazil sifts through wreckage of presidential palace, Congress

There was still a lingering smell of tear gas in the air.

But that wasn't why employees were crying as they returned to work at Brazil's pillaged presidential palace Monday, where far-right rioters left a trail of shattered glass, trashed furniture and destroyed artwork in their wake.

Huge parts of the Planalto Palace, a national treasure designed by renowned modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, were destroyed almost beyond recognition by Sunday's rampage, when a flood of supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro invaded the building, along with the seats of Congress and the Supreme Court nearby.

Ripped up floors, broken windows and doors, vandalized paintings, furniture left strewn across a reflecting pool: the damage was staggering.

"I cried," one employee told AFP.

Cleaning teams were frantically sweeping the floors and fishing furniture from the reflecting pool in front of the palace.

Government employees were meanwhile trying to restore some semblance of normal operations, just over a week after leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office on January 1.

- Destroyed art, bloodied offices -

Three Powers Square, the heart of power in the capital, was deserted Monday morning, except for the heavy security contingent deployed to lock down the area.

Graffiti calling for a military intervention to remove Lula from power was scrawled across the facades of buildings, whose insides had been torn apart by the mob during the roughly four hours they occupied them Sunday afternoon and evening.

At the Planalto, protesters had ripped up stone floor tiles to break windows and hurl at the security forces.

Fire hoses, chairs and a large wooden table were strewn about, along with the remains of tear gas canisters fired by security forces.

Inside the lobby, photographs of Brazil's former president had been tossed on the floor, some of them torn or vandalized -- the marble wall where they usually hang left bare.

The rioters also stabbed several punctures through a priceless painting, "As Mulatas," by 20th-century Brazilian artist Di Cavalcanti.

It is one of what officials said were around 100 works of art housed in the palace.

"Nearly all of them were damaged," an employee said.

Another said traces of blood could still be seen in the offices on the ground floor.

- Water-logged Congress -

The damage was also glaring at the National Congress, which houses the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

There, protesters had trashed furniture, left ripped wires hanging from the ceiling and smashed the door to the Senate chamber to pieces.

In the lobby, dozens of cleaners were racing to mop up a pool of water on the floor, after the tear gas fired by security forces set off the building's sprinkler system.

"It's a tragedy," said Tiago Amaral, a 34-year-old staffer for Senator Jaques Wagner.

"They destroyed pieces of our national heritage. But it's more than that. This was also the worst attack on democracy since the 1964 coup," which installed a two-decade military dictatorship in Brazil, he said.

"I hope they all go to jail."

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